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Copyright Resources to Support Publishing and Teaching

A guide for faculty, staff, and students at Penn about how to obtain, manage, and understand copyright issues for their work

Should I obtain permission for copyrighted material?

This page provides resources for contacting a rights-holder to use a copyrighted work. 

Seeking permission from the rights-holder may reduce risk if it is unclear if the proposed reproduction or public distribution is permitted under copyright law.  Permission may be unnecessary if the work is in the public domain, not subject to copyright-protection, or when there is an exception under copyright law that clearly supports your intended use, for example, the use is a Fair Use.

It is sometimes best to obtain permission, particularly for images, sound recordings, videos, or other media, and even scholarly articles before posting the information publicly.  If you are going to ask for permission, then you need to be prepared to regroup if permission is denied (or if you do not want to pay the fee requested for the permission). By proceeding after permission is denied, or you are quoted a permissions fee you are unprepared to pay, it may be more likely to turn into a dispute.


How do I obtain permission for copyrighted material?

  • Step 1 - identify the copyright owner of the quotation, image, video, audio recording, or other copyrighted material that you would like to use.
    • The owner may be the poster of the content on a website, an individual author, or the publisher.  Look for context clues including  the (c) symbol on the materials you wish to use.
    • If you are using material from the Library or an archival institution, this institution may not be the rights-holder.  They may however, know who you should contact.
  • Step 2 - contact the copyright owner, identify yourself and the proposed use you would like to make, and request permission for your intended use. 

    • The more details you provide in your request, the more likely it is that you will receive a timely response.  For example, it is clearer to say " My name is X.  I teach at Y Institution. I am writing to request permission to reproduce the material in your book [insert full book citation], on pages 13-24 on my course Canvas page for the Fall 2020 semester.  The material will be removed after the course is completed, and students will not be able to access it afterwards.  Students will be expected to use the material as the basis for an in-class presentation that will be recorded but not distributed outside of the students and instructors of the course.  Do I have your permission to proceed with this intended use? "  as opposed to "I would like to use your book in my class".

    • Sometimes the copyright owner has their own preferred form or method for receiving and processing a request, make sure to closely read and follow the instructions to increase the odds that you receive a reply.
    • Budget yourself plenty of time to correspond with the rights-holder and secure the rights that you need.  Unless you are contacting a major-rights holder, it is unlikely that you will receive an instantaneous response.

  • Step 3 - document the response of the rights holder, preserve correspondence (this includes any email / letter exchanges, permissions forms or research you have conducted to identify the rights holder.

    • Calendar the day you initially reached out, and set yourself reminders to follow up if you do not receive a response. 

    • Sometimes the answer from the rights-holder will be "no".  In such cases you should carefully consider your alternatives, and how you might limit your request or adjust your proposed use to avoid a copyright conflict.

Additional Resources

  • Kansas State University has additional resources and forms to help you identify rights holders and document the steps you have taken to complete your due diligence. See
  • Columbia also has a robust suite of materials, including step-by-step tips, and model permissions forms for video content, text, and material in a course site such as Canvas.  See

Does "fair use" apply and how?

  •  “Fair Use” allows individuals to utilize materials under certain circumstances without permission of the original copyright holder.  There are four factors in considering fair use:

"(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;

(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work."

  • Some questions to ask that may help in determing whether a use is "fair use" would include"
  1. Are you using the material for educational or non-profit  purposes?  Generally educational purposes are viewed more favorably under fair use than are for-profit motives, and Is the use” transformative?”  In other words are you creating something new or are you simply reproducing the material without adding anything to it?  Generally creating something new is more likely to fall under fair use than reproducing material without adding to it?

  2. How much are you using? Are you using only portions of the book, video clip, or image? Generally utilizing less is viewed more favorably under fair use than using large portions of material.   

  3. Is the work creative or purely factual?  Generally the use of factual works is viewed more favorably than the use of creative works?

  4. How will your use affect the market?   If the copyright holder is financially harmed by your use of the material, than your use is unlikely to be viewed as a “fair use.”

Need help?

For further assistance with copyright issues, contact your subject specialist, or consult with the Libraries' Copyright Advisor


For questions about use of materials on reserve, contact Van Pelt Course Reserves or your departmental library.