Asking for Permission
The following pages should serve as a resource for asking permission to use a variety of media under copyright protection. They do not by any means constitute legal advice. Rather, they contain suggestions intended to guide members of the academic community who, having considered the Four Factors Test, believe that their anticipated uses of materials not in the Public Domain exceed the limits of Fair Use.
For printed materials:
- the author of the text or the publisher of the book, periodical, or compilation. The copyright ownership of a single contribution to a larger work depends on whether or not the piece in question is considered a work-for-hire.
When using material such as diary entries and letters, privacy rights become an issue and you may need to seek permission from the party(ies) whose privacy is at stake. See Privacy/Publicity Rights for information.
For text you find on the Internet:
- Look for a copyright notice or for some other contact listed on the site.
You can contact writers and publishing houses directly. The following sites provide contact information for a number of publishers:
You can also use one of the following on line services. They help to identify the copyright owner and can obtain permission for you.
The Copyright Clearance Center and Authors' Registry have forms to download and complete. When requesting permission directly from an individual author or from a publishing house, an initial phone call is a good idea, after which you should send a letter with very specific information about the materials you want to use and the how you plan to use them. You should choose your language carefully so that the permission you are granted covers everything you plan to do with the materials. Be sure to allow adequate time for a response. Click for a list of Information to Include.
For any image of artwork or photography:
- the creator of the work or the heirs of his/her estate. *Exception: see work-for-hire.
- the museum or gallery that owns the work (even if it is considered to be in the Public Domain) or the copyright owner of the printed/electronic publication in which the illustration/photograph/graphic appears. See information regarding permission to use text for details on how to locate and contact writers and publishers.
- the person who photographed the work for reproduction. This may not be necessary if you obtain an image directly from a museum or on line service, but it is best to ask your contact at the institution/company if the photographer has or has not retained his/her rights.
- If you are making copies of or scanning a reproduction of an image from a book, magazine, or web page you should request permission from the copyright owner(s) of the underlying image, the museum and photographer (if relevant), and the copyright owner of the reproduction (who is often the copyright owner of the entire publication).
- Be cautious when using an image of a celebrity or of any individual. Depending on your use, you may need to get clearance to use it. See Privacy/Publicity Rights for information.
To locate the creator of the image, you can obtain copyright status information from the museum in which the work is located or from the publisher of the book, web page, etc.
For works of fine art, you may also want to consult the following site for assistance:
- The Artists Rights Society represents some major 20th century artists and acts as a liaison for obtaining permission to use images of member artists' work in printed and electronic media.
Most museums and galleries have websites that include specific instructions on how to obtain their permission and the actual slides or digital images you need.
- ArtSource has a list of on-line museum collections and provides information about and links to the websites of many US museums.
- The Virtual Library museums page offers a searchable directory of websites of museums all over the world.
- Internet ArtResources is an on-line database of searchable museum, gallery, and artist listings.
There are also several on-line image licensing services from which you can get the digital image or slide you need and the license to use it.
- Saskia Ltd. Cultural Documentation grants perpetual licenses to educational institutions with the requirement that the images be made available only to the college community. From this service you can order camera-original slides, duplicate slides, and digital images.
- The Copyright Clearance Center's Mira is a digital stock photography program that grants permission to use copyrighted images in its photograph and New Yorker cartoon collections.
- The Academic Image Cooperative is still being developed, but will offer a collection of copyright-cleared images.
Some of the on line services listed above have forms to complete and send in electronically. Many museums have forms to download, print, and mail in. It is advisable to include a cover letter that describes exactly how you are planning to use the materials indicated. Obtaining permission to use images of works not available through these services may require multiple letters and phone calls. You may need to make an initial phone call to get the information you need and then write to obtain written permission and confirmation that your correspondent owns the copyright. You can adjust your request accordingly depending on whether you're writing to the artist, to an agency, or to a museum, but in all cases your letter should include very specific information. Be sure to allow adequate time for a response. Click for a list of Information to Include.
For any piece of music:
- the copyright owner of the musical composition. This is usually the composer, songwriter, or publisher.
- the copyright owner of the particular recording you wish to use (unless you plan on hiring your own musicians to perform the song). This is usually the recording company.
- the musicians and singers who performed the recording you are using.
For music used a film or other audiovisual medium, contact the relevant parties that are listed above unless the piece of music is considered a work-for-hire, in which case see below under audiovisual contacts.
For other audio materials:
- the creator/producer of the sound file.
- possibly the individual whose voice (if any) is used. See Privacy/Publicity Rights for information.
There are agencies that represent the composers, writers, and publishers and can grant you permission to use a musical composition in certain ways. (Pay particular attention to the types of licenses these agencies do and do not grant.)
- The Harry Fox Agency represents many music publishers, songwriters and composers and can help you determine and obtain the type of license you need. This site also provides a expansive list of links to websites of music publishers, music rights societies, songwriter associations, and music industry resources.
- ASCAP- American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers also provides information about music publishing and offers licensing for a variety of uses.
- BMI- Broadcast Music, Inc. is another service that provides information and digital licensing.
N.B. These agencies cater to commercial users, so there are charges for their services. Take note of the fee schedules and be clear when describing your intended usage to avoid unnecessary costs.
To get permission to use a recording, your request should most likely be directed to the recording company. Look for a copyright notice somewhere on the album you are using. Most recording companies have websites with contact information.
- Looksmart's Record Labels A-Z is a listing of recording companies with links to their websites.
To contact musicians and singers, send letters care of the artists' agents and/or managers. You can consult the official websites of individual performers and ensembles for contact information, or search the following site:
- Performing Arts Online has a page of links to the representatives and managers of various performing artists.
For other audio:
- Looksmart's Sound Files & MIDI Archives is a listing of websites that offer a variety of sound files (many of which are probably not copyright-protected).
For audio materials other than music, send a request for written permission with explicit information about the material you wish to use and the nature of your use to the appropriate party. For music, ASCAP, BMI, and Harry Fox have forms to download and send in. It is advisable to include a cover letter that describes exactly how you are planning on using the materials indicated. Likewise, if you decide to contact the publisher, recording company, and/or musicians directly, send letters with explicit information. Be sure to allow adequate time for a response. Click for a list of Information to Include.
For film, video, and television:
- the movie studio, video distributor, or TV production company
- possibly the individuals who appear in the clips you use. For most film and See Privacy/Publicity Rights for information.
- possibly the Writers Guild and Directors Guild
For dramatic works:
- the owner of the rights to the play, musical, ballet, etc. This may be the playwright, choreographer, an heir to the original owner's estate, or some other party. There are services that grant permission to perform such works. See Resources for information.
For anything based on a piece of fiction:
- the copyright owner of the written work. See information regarding permission to use text for details on how to locate and contact writers and publishers.
For anything in which copyright-protected music is used:
- the copyright owner of the piece of music, unless the music was composed and recorded for or under the complete direction of the filmmaker, television producer, playwright, etc. and is thus considered work-for-hire. Otherwise, see information regarding permission to use music.
The following two sites provide searchable databases of video distributors:
To find the websites of and contact information for television production companies and film movie studios, you can also consult the following Looksmart searches:
There are also services through which you can obtain licenses to use film;
- The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation grants an umbrella license for a low annual fee.
- UCLA Film and Television Archive provides access to and licensing for national and international newsreel and historical footage.
Contact information for the Writers and Directors Guilds of America:
Writers Guild of America, East
555 West 57th Street, Suite 1230
New York, NY 10019
Tel: (212) 767-7800
Fax: (212) 582-1909
Writers Guild of America, West
7000 West Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Tel: (800) 548-4532
Directors Guild of America
See Contacting the DGA for contact information.
The following services provide licenses to perform plays and musicals:
Obtaining permission to use video may require multiple letters and/or phone calls. When writing your letters, be sure to include very specific information about the materials you wish to use and about your intended usage. You can adjust your request accordingly depending on whether you're writing to a service like UCLA's Archive, to a studio or production company, or to the individuals who appear in the video. Be sure to allow adequate time for a response. Click for a list of Information to Include.
- the company and/or individual writer of the program. The license* itself may indicate who owns the rights to the program. See work-for-hire .
*Computer programs come with licenses whose terms are to be agreed to before use. These terms are often more restrictive than copyright law. For this reason, some licenses have been deemed non-binding. However, as a general rule, you should request permission from the software company if your use of the material exceeds the terms of the license and the limitations of fair use.
Send a letter to the company or individual(s) and explain your intended use. Be sure to allow adequate time for a response. Click for a list of Information to Include.