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Copyright for Students: Getting Permission

Basic information about U.S.C. Title 17 Copyright Law particularly as it relates to higher education.

Finding Copyright Owners

Library of Congress Public Catalog: a searchable database of copyright owners for works registered after 1978.

How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work

Stanford University's Copyright Renewal Database: a searchable index of the copyright renewal records for books published in the US between 1923 and 1963.

Get Permission

Contact the author or the publisher directly. If you don't know who is the publisher, use The Literary Marketplace for books) or Ulrich's Web (for journals). Write a letter, call or email. Verify that you are getting permission from the person(s) or entities who have the authority to give it. 

Written permission is best. It should clearly state the scope of what you are being permitted to do. Precisely describe what you want to do and include alternatives in case you wish to change something. Oral permission is OK, but you will need to document the conversation and then try to get at least an initialized confirmation letter. You will probably have to pay royalties and these vary dramatically.

Unidentified/unresponsive copyright owners

There is no case law to-date regarding this issue. Nevertheless, copyright owners are protected whether or not they can be identified or do not respond to permissions requests. Therefore, using this kind of work is risky. However, the decision to use them will require careful consideration of all four factors of the Fair Use exemption (§ 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use) or the application of the Educational Exemption (§ 110, 112(f))  Your efforts and conclusions should be fully documented to demonstrate you have made a reasonable and good faith effort to analyze the exemptions to determine that your use likely qualifies under the law. This may lend support to your defense in the event of a lawsuit. It may or may reduce your liability if the courts find infringement. Educational use, especially in a nonprofit institution, is most likely to be found a noninfringement. Beyond that, the risk of infringement is higher, especially if the work is being use commercially.

Last updated November 2023.

Finding Copyright Owners

WATCH List::  Writers Artists and Their Copyright Holders is a database of copyright contacts for writers, artists, and prominent figures in other creative fields from the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center – Univ. Texas Austin.

FOB: Firms Out of Business is a database with information about vanished publishing concerns, literary agencies, and similar firms.

WATCH and FOB are run jointly by the Harry Ransom Center and University of Reading Library.

The Copyright Clearinghouse can help you identify the copyright status of a work and take care of the royalties for you.

Last updated November 2023.

Finding Copyright Owners

Find Copyright Owners

Finding Copyright Owners





Last updated November 2023.

Finding Copyright Owners