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Introduction to Copyright

When to Get Permission

In many cases, you will need to obtain permission from a rights holder or pay licensing fees in order to make use of in-copyright material. Some reasons you may want to get permission include:

  • Your intended use isn't fair: You've done your homework and evaluated how your intended use stacks up against the four factors of fair use. But you've determined that your use isn't fair, or you have serious doubts.

  • It's the right thing to do: While copyright is a legal issue, you may encounter ethical considerations that are also important. For instance, consider whether distributing copyrighted works could invade someone's privacy or inappropriately share culturally sensitive materials.

  • You want to maintain a relationship: If you are working with an individual or institutional collaborator, or if you are obtaining sources from a private collection, you may decide that seeking permission will support a healthy working relationship, even in cases where your use is fair.

The Association of Research Libraries Code of Best Practices in Fair Use offers this nugget of wisdom:

"Exercising fair use is a right, not an obligation. There will always be situations in which those entitled to employ fair use may forgo use or obtain permission instead. . . But the choice to seek a license or ask permission should be an informed one."

Guides to Getting Permission

Numerous institutions have developed useful materials to help you navigate the often complex process of obtaining permission for the use of copyrighted materials.