Frequently Asked Questions: Obtaining Permissions


Copyright owners have several exclusive rights, including the right to copy, distribute, perform or display their works or create derivatives of their works. If non-owners wish to use copyrighted works and the "fair use" and other exceptions to copyright law do not seem to apply, the non-owners must identify and contact the copyright owners for permission to use the work(s).

How do I identify the copyright owner?

There are several different ways to identify copyright owners: contact publishers; conduct Internet searches using the author's name; or contact one of the many on-line organizations that assist in identifying copyright owners and securing permission from them. The U.S. Copyright Office also maintains records of all registered copyrighted works. Its databases can be searched for a fee, but searching this database will be fruitful only if the copyright holders registered their works with the office and have not since transferred their copyrights to other persons or entities.

How do I contact the copyright owner?

Contact the owner in writing. Even if your initial contact is via the telephone, you should follow up in writing via email, letter or fax, so you can fully describe the nature of your request and maintain a written record of it. Allow several weeks for a request to be processed and know, in advance, whether you are willing to pay a royalty or licensing fee. MnSCU faculty and staff members need to obtain the approval of their campus intellectual property coordinators before committing to pay a royalty, license, or other fee to the copyright owner.

Is there a particular procedure for obtaining permission from the copyright owner?

There is no "right way" to contact an owner, but some owners have preferred or required procedures for permission requests. Failure to follow these procedures may lead to a delayed response or no response at all, so follow all instructions and use permission request forms where provided. If there is no prescribed method, specifically describe your proposed use (who will be using or viewing the work, how you plan on using the work, whether you want to use the entire work or only a portion of it, etc.); agree to identify and acknowledge the owner in whatever manner the owner prefers; and specify the amount of time for which you would like to use the work. Keep copies of your requests for permission, maintain detailed records of your attempts to secure permission, and save all responses from owners. If you choose to retain the services of a third party vendor permissions clearinghouse, the logistics of how to apply for permission will be handled by the clearinghouse.

What if the copyright owner doesn't respond to my request for permission or, worse still, denies my request?

If you are unable to obtain permission to use the work, consider using an alternative work or use the selected work in a more limited manner that keeps you within the limits of "fair use". (See our example on the Copyright Holders Rights page).

Is there anyone within the MnSCU system that can help me obtain permission to use copyrighted works?

Yes. MnSCU's on campus Intellectual Property Coordinators are available to assist in obtaining the necessary permission.

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