If your use of a copyright-protected work is not covered by an existing licence or an educational exception in the Copyright Act, you have the option of seeking permission directly from the copyright owner. The creator of a work is generally the initial copyright owner of that work. However, copyright ownership can be transferred to another individual or entity (for example, to a publisher).
Where to start
When seeking permission to use a published work, the best place to start is on the publisher’s website. Many publishers have an online form that you can fill out to request permission. The form will most likely appear on one of the following pages on their site:
- Contact us (some publishers will have a dedicated contact person or email address for copyright permission requests)
Copyright Clearance Center
Another option is to search for the work on the Copyright Clearance Center’s (CCC) website. The CCC is an American copyright collective that can provide licences for some works, primarily written material and images from scholarly publications. For assistance using the CCC website to request copyright permission, please contact the copyright coordinator.
The permission process can be fairly long (six to eight weeks, on average), so it is a good idea to send your request well before the material is needed.
How to write a permission request
If there is no online form and the material is not part of the CCC’s repertoire, you can contact the rightsholder in writing (for example, e-mail) outlining how you would like to use the material. Providing clear details in your permission request about how you would like to use the material may make the process of obtaining permissions more quick and straightforward. We recommend including the following information in your request:
- your name and institutional affiliation (if applicable);
- a full citation for the material that you are requesting permission to use or reproduce;
- purpose of use (education, re-publication, display, etc.);
- if re-publishing the requested material, details about your new work in which the requested material would be used;
- distribution details (for example, limited private distribution or wide distribution, whether material will be distributed for free or sold, estimated number of copies to be distributed, etc.);
- length of time for which the work will be used (or specify if you would like ongoing permission); and
- whether you intend to make any changes to the requested material.
Once the publisher has received your information, they will usually reply in writing with a proposed licence agreement. The agreement should include the following information:
- cost of use (this can range from being free to hundreds of dollars, depending on the type and quantity of the material requested, as well as the desired number of copies to be made);
- type of payment being proposed (one-time payment, pay-per-use, no charge, etc.);
- time limitation on use (for example, for the duration of one school term, one calendar year, etc.);
- who is permitted access to the materials (for example, only students enrolled in one particular course);
- how the copyright owner should be credited or cited when the material is posted/distributed.
Permission may come in the form of a letter or e-mail from the publisher and/or copyright owner or it may be in the form of a licence agreement. It is very important to keep a copy, for your records, of the written permission or licence that you receive in case you are required to provide proof of the permission in the future.
If the copyright owner has proposed a licence that will be useful to you and if you are willing to pay the fee that is requested, then you will be able to use the material in the manner stipulated by the terms of the licence agreement.
Note: While some publishers are willing to grant permission for scholarly uses free of charge, some are not. Additionally, copyright owners are under no obligation to provide you with permission to use their material.
Permission request template
This sample permission request letter can be used to contact a copyright owner for permission to use their work. It is tailored for requesting permission to distribute material to students enrolled in a USask course for educational purposes, but can be adapted to suit your specific request or use.