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Copyright Guide

Library Databases

Take advantage of what we already have. The University Library leases access to a hundreds of electronic resources to support research and teaching on campus.  This includes databases that provide access to journal articles, ebooks, music, and video.

Publisher Directories

US Copyright Office - Registration & Renewal Records

Find copyright registration and renewal records using the following links.  Some links provide information and tips for searching these records.

I need permission, what do I do now?

Identify the Owner

The permissions process usually starts with identifying the copyright owner. Sometimes this is as easy as looking at the copyright notice. At other times, it can be a little more complicated. Copyright can be transferred to heirs or signed over to others in a written contract. Sometimes copyright in a single work may be jointly owned by two or more people. The various rights can even be divided between different people. Media, such as images, sound recordings and video present special challenges since this can involve multiple layers of ownership. A little bit of detective work may be necessary to identify and locate a copyright owner, especially for older material. 

Registries and databases, such as the WATCH File, provide advice and other information which can help with identifying and locating copyright owners. The WATCH File is a database of names and contact information for copyright owners of works by authors and artists from the United States and Europe. CCC's database provides publication information and names the rights holder for the work. The copyright registration records from the US Copyright Office identifies copyright claimants for a work. All are useful starting points for identifying potential copyright owners, but due to the complex nature of copyright ownership, additional research may be required to verify current copyright owners for a work.

Since copyright ownership can change, it is also important to verify that the person or organization you are contacting is actually the copyright owner and has the right to give you permission to use the work. 

Locate the Owner

Once you have identified the copyright owner, you need to contact them for permission. This can be as simple as looking in the book or doing a quick search online. When information is not available from these methods, additional research may be required. Don't forget about more traditional reference sources, such as publisher directories like: Books In Print, Literary Marketplace, or Ulrich's Periodicals Directory.

State Your Purpose

When requesting permission, include details that clearly identify the material being used, the amount you need, and the purpose of the use. It is important to be specific and include as many details as possible about what it is that you need to do. For example, if you want to reprint something in a new book that you are publishing, include details about the specific sections that you would like to reprint as well as the title and edition of the work that you are using. If you need to digitize something so that you can display it on your website, you should ask for permission to both digitize the item and to display the digitized copy online. If you need to use something more than once, you should state this as well since you will not have permission to use something more than once unless you have specifically requested to do so. In other words, getting permission once does not automatically mean you have permission to use the same material in a different context at a later time.  

Get It In Writing

Permission may be given verbally or in writing, but obtaining written permission is recommended since it is easier to maintain a record of the nature and extent of the permission granted.

Licensing Options: Collective Rights Agencies

Organizations known as “collective rights agencies” provide licensing services for using copyrighted material.  They are usually not the actual copyright owner but work on behalf of the owner collecting fees and royalties for specific types of uses.  Licenses may be provided on an item-by-item basis or as a blanket institutional license which convers multiple uses made by members of an organization.

The licensing options offered by many of these organizations are limited to a specific media and type of activity.  A few of the most common organizations are discussed below.

Copyright Clearance Center

When using text-based material such as journal articles or books for teaching or research a convenient method for seeking permissions is through the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC).  The CCC provides an item-by-item licensing option which gives an individual permission to use specific items for specific purposes.  What is permitted will depend on the license.  They also provide institutional licenses to universities which cover many of the activities common in an academic community such as copying and distributing articles to work colleagues or students. 

Public Performance Licensing  

Some organizations provide licenses for the public performance of music and motion pictures on campus.  “Public performance” refers to any display or performance that occurs in public spaces rather than private spaces such as a home or dorm room.  Examples include campus screenings of motion pictures, a live concert performed by the school’s orchestra, or the broadcasting of music over the student union sound system. 

Don't forget ....classroom displays are allowed per an educational exemption.  A public performance license is not required to play movies or perform music in a face-to-face classroom setting.  

Don’t confuse purchasing the copy with purchasing the rights.  Normally, when you purchase a video, a script for a play, or a musical score, you have only purchased a copy of the item.  You can use the material in private or in the classroom but you cannot display or perform the work in public, even if you are not charging any money.  You must actually pay an extra fee in order to perform the work in public.

Before publicly performing plays, music, or films it is a good idea to confirm that the university has a license which covers that activity.  If there is no license, you will need to obtain one before performing the work.  

Getting Permissions

If fair use, the educational exemptions, or the licensing options discussed here are not applicable, permission may be required to use a copyrighted work. 

Info on Permissions

Finding Copyright Owners

The following links are useful tools for locating contact information for authors and publishers, as well as for identifying rights holders.