For Users

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Obtaining Permission

So, you have determined that the work you want to use is probably not in the public domain, and that it is not available under a license. You don't think your use is covered by any of the exceptions or limitations, including fair use. You may still be able to use the work, if you seek permission!

The Library provides assistance in acquiring permissions for materials to be copied for library reserves, course materials, and other University-related purposes. You may want to review the information on E-Reserves or send an email to [email protected].

Note that many creators do not themselves own their copyrights - the copyright in most books is owned by the publisher; the copyright in most music is owned by a distributor. However, it can still be a good idea to contact the creator - they may be able to give permission, and can usually put you in touch with other rights holders. Many images may have three or more rights holders: (1) the owner of the copyright (usually the creator or publisher); (2) the photographer of three-dimensional artworks/objects; and (3) the owner of the physical artwork, if a high-quality image is needed. There are some collective licensing agencies that may be able to help you secure permission. If you get no response after several requests, the work may be an orphan.

(Based on materials graciously made available by the University of Minnesota Libraries)

Orphan Works

Sometimes it is difficult or impossible to identify the copyright holder for a particular work. It may be possible to identify who owned the rights at some point in time, but after a creator's death, or after the dissolution of an organization or company the trail of ownership may disappear. These works are referred to as "orphan works" - and there is no person who can give permission to use them. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be used.

You can accept the risk that a copyright holder may later identify herself and object to a use (a risk that is lessened when the work is potentially in the public domain, or when the use is potentially fair), or give up the plan of using such a work. If you choose to use an orphan work, make sure you provide a simple notice about how to assert a claim of ownership, such as "PLEASE NOTE: If anyone feels that this work is not a fair use of any materials, please write to _______________ at ________________ [email address]. The authors/creators will seriously consider such concerns and make every effort to respond appropriately."

Orphan works are a real problem in copyright law. Legislation has been proposed several times that would address some of the problems, but it has never been passed.

(Based on materials graciously made available by the University of Minnesota Libraries)

Attributing Copyrighted Materials

As in any form of academic publishing, attribution is essential. Whether or not the materials are still under copyright, the sources for all third party materials should be appropriately credited. Proper attribution contains:

  • Maker name, dates
  • Title of work, date
  • Medium of work
  • Credit line of holding institution
  • Copyright statement/photo credit if applicable

Material found on the web must be used consistent with any applicable restrictions including specific phrasing for attribution.


Trying to figure out who holds the rights?

Look for a copyright statement like "© Juanita Rogers, 1999"

Remember: formal permissions must be in written form for full legal protection!

Want to contact the creator?

Look for them online. Try emailing or direct messages using Facebook or Twitter!

Corporate owner?

Look for contact information for a Permissions department.

Remember: correct citation doesn't substitute for permission when permission is needed!