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Copyright: How to Seek Permission

Detailed guidelines for authors, instructors, and students.

How to Get Permission

1. Determine whether permission is needed.

  • Refer to the Four Factors of Fair Use to determine if permission is needed.
  • Remember that you do not need to request permission if the work is licensed under a Creative Commons or other license agreement as long as you follow the terms of the license. 
  • You do not need permission for works that are in the public domain. 
  • Most U.S. Government documents are free to use. 
  • You may need permission to reuse your own material if you signed it over to a publisher.

2. Identify the copyright owner.

  • Look for a copyright statement on the work
  • Because a copyright statement is NOT required, look for the person or group that is associated with the work (author or publisher)

3. Request permission.

  • Publishers will frequently have "Permission Requests" forms or contacts on their websites. Follow their conventions as closely as possible to make the process easy.
  • Some publishers, especially journal publishers, use the Copyright Clearance Center’s Rightslink® service to facilitate permissions requests; a link is often located with the full text of an article. Publishers frequently charge for granting permissions using Rightslink.
  • If a process for requesting permission is not established, or if the copyright owner is an individual rather than a publisher, contact the copyright owner directly. Contact by phone, letter, or email, but be sure to make the following information available about your request:
    • Who you are (faculty, researcher)
    • What material you are looking to reuse as specifically as possible (include page numbers, title of images, etc.)
    • Where and How you intend to reuse the material (course management system, open access journal article, etc.)
    • The time frame for your reuse of the material (for one semester, indefinitely)

‚Äč4. Keep good records of all your licensing information and correspondence, even your unanswered efforts to secure permission to reuse copyrighted material.

Fair Use

The Four Factors of Fair Use

The four factors judges consider are:

  • Purpose and character of your use - Is it of commercial nature or for nonprofit educational purposes? Non-profit educational use is the easiest to cover under fair use.
  • Nature of the copyrighted work - Factual or scientific materials fit better under fair use than creative works such as fiction, poetry, etc.
  • Amount and substantiality of the portion taken - The greater the work, the less likely it is to be fair use.
  • Effect of the use upon the potential market.- Can you easily purchase the copies you need? Are you repeatedly using something under fair use when you should be paying royalties?

Any determination of Fair Use must take all FOUR factors into consideration.

How often a work is used is NOT part of the copyright law, though some publishers believe you should seek permission or pay a royalty fee for repeated use of copyrighted works.  A safe practice is to seek permission for repeated use, especially if the use is over several years, though it is not stipulated by the copyright law.

Adapted from FL-102, June 1999.

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