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Copyright Basics

Obtaining Permission


Student Release Form

Faculty can use this form to request students' release of course materials they created for public availability. The form includes an option for students to release their work under a Creative Commons license.

Procedures for Securing Permission - a Faculty Checklist

keyProcedures for Securing Permission - a Faculty Checklist


Permission is not always required to use a work, depending on the work you choose or on your intended use. However, if you've determined that the work is not in the public domain or your use is not considered fair use, then you may need to secure permission. If you are just beginning the process, you will need to carefully consider the steps for securing permission, as detailed in the tabbed steps above.

This section derives content from "Asking for Permission" by Columbia University with attribution to Dr. Kenneth D. Crews (formerly of Columbia University) and is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Image Souce: "Key" is in the Public Domain, CC0

Check Copyright Status of Work

Use the links below to search for the current status of the work you're considering.

Contact the Copyright Owner

Once you have identified the owner or owners, contact them to request permission.

Publishers or distributors (if it's a film) often have websites that prescribe a method for contacting the copyright owner, so search the website for a permissions department or contact person. Feel free to call the person or publishing house to confirm the copyright ownership.

If the copyright owner is an individual, you will need to do the usual Internet and telephone searches to find the person. Be ready to introduce yourself and to explain carefully what you are seeking.


  • The copyright owner may prefer or require that permission requests be made using a certain medium (i.e. email, mail, etc.). If you do not follow instructions, you may not get a reply.
  • Telephone calls may be the quickest method for getting a response from the owner, but they should be followed up with a letter or e-mail in order to document the exact scope of the permission. E-mail permissions are legally acceptable in most cases, but getting a genuine signature is usually best.
  • The request should be sent to the individual copyright holder (when applicable) or permissions department of the publisher in question. Be sure to include your return address, telephone, e-mail address, and the date at the top of your letter or message. If you send the permission request by mail, include a self-addressed, stamped return envelope.
  • Include the class you are teaching and in which you are using the source, the time period that you would like to use it, and emphasize that you are teaching in a protected, online learning environment called Canvas. Only students registered in this specific class will be able to access the film.
  • Make the process easy for the copyright owner. The less effort the owner has to put forth, the more likely you will get the permission you need. If you are using conventional mail, include a second copy of your request for the owner’s records.
  • State clearly who you are, your institutional affiliation (e.g., Columbia University), and the general nature of your project.

Do not send permissions letters to all possible rights holders simultaneously. Taking the time to find the person who most likely holds the copyright will better yield success. If you do not have much information about who actually owns the copyright, be honest with your contacts, and they may be able to help you find the right person.

Write for Permission

A “nonexclusive” permission may be granted by telephone or handshake, but an “exclusive” permission must be in writing and signed by the copyright owner (email is also acceptable).

Some copyright owners furnish their own permission form that may be downloaded from a website. If the copyright owner does not provide a permission agreement form, you may use one of the model letters listed in this guide (see tab - Model Permission Letters). Consider these important pointers when drafting your own permission letter.


The Letter/Email

A most effective letter will include detailed information concerning your request for permission to use the work. Be sure to include the following pertinent information:

  • Who: Introduce yourself. Tell who you are and perhaps include a brief summary of your credentials. For example: “I am a professor of history at Columbia University and am the author of several books on American history.”
  • What: Be as specific as possible when you cite and describe the work you wish to use. If you plan to use the entire work, say so. If you need only part, give the details. For example: “I would like permission to reproduce pages 113 through 142 of [full citation to book].” You may need to be more detailed or include copies of the material, especially if you are using photographic images or sound or film clips.
  • How: Tell how you plan to use the work. Specify whether your use is commercial or nonprofit, for classroom learning or online education, for research and publication, etc. If you plan to use it in Canvas, include the class you are teaching, the timeframe for which you'd like to use the work, and be specific about how only students registered for this specific course will be able to access/view the work. Canvas is an authenticated, protected learning environment which only students may access.
  • When: State how long you plan to use the work, whether one semester or indefinitely. Some owners may be wary of granting permission for extended periods of time or for dates far in the future, but if that is what you need, go ahead and ask.
  • Where and How: Include information about how and where the work will be used. Such uses may involve classroom copies, reserves, coursepacks, password protected online displays, etc. Include the exact or estimated number of copies that you wish to make or the number of uses intended.
  • Why: Tell why you are contacting that person or entity for permission. For example: “I am writing to you, because I believe your company acquired the company that originally published the book.” Another example: “I believe that you are the grandson of the original writer, and therefore may have inherited the copyright to the letters and diaries.” If you are using materials from a library or archives, do not assume that the institution holds the copyrights. You need to investigate and ask.



Sometimes you need to be patient and persistent, and sometimes the owner responds quickly. In any event, the reply can take any number of possibilities:

  • Permission Granted. Great news. Make sure to keep a record of your communication. Also, send a copy of the granted permission to TCC's Copyright Officer, as outlined in the next step.
  • Permission Denied. Find out why. Maybe you can negotiate a better result. In any event, you may need to change your plans or look for alternative materials.
  • Permission Granted, but at a Cost. The copyright owner may charge a fee for the permission. You might obtain a lower fee if you change your plans, e.g., by copying fewer pages from the book or making fewer copies of the work. Sometimes copyright owners require their own permission form. Read it carefully. The form may impose limits or include legal constraints (“You agree to be bound by the law of Illinois”) that are not acceptable to you. The decision to accept will be up to you, your counsel or supervisors, and your budget.

Keep a Record

  1. Keep a copy of everything for yourself. If you successfully obtain permission, keep a copy of all correspondence and forms. Also, keep a detailed record of your quest to identify and locate the copyright owner. Why keep these records? In the unlikely event that your use of the work is ever challenged, you will need to demonstrate your good efforts. That challenge could arise far in the future, so keep a permanent file of the records. Moreover, you might need to contact that same copyright owner again for a later use of the work, and your notes from the past will make the task easier.
  2. Email a copy of your successful permission letter (fully completed and signed by the copyright holder) to the copyright officer at TCC, This is a requirement! Help us document the legal usage of copyrighted information. This protects the college and it protects you!

Model Permission Letters

Orphan Works: When There is No One to Ask

dead end signOne of the most vexing problems in copyright law is the problem of "orphan works".  These are those great many works where it is difficult or impossible to determine who owns the copyright.  The copyright term in the US is very long and copyrights outlive their creators by 70 years.  Works by corporate or anonymous authors are covered by copyright for up to 120 years.  That is a lot of time for the details of ownership to get lost in the shuffle.

When dealing with an "orphan work", you must basically decide to either take the risk that a copyright holder might later identify themselves or forgo using the work.  It is hard to say how risky a given use might be.  If a copyright holder came forward they might simply insist that you stop using the work or they may attempt to recover damages.  

This section derives content from "Copyright Resources: Permission" by PCC Library which is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Image source: "Dead End" is in the Public Domain, CC0

How can the TCC Library help?

While seeking permission from the copyright holder is the faculty member's responsibility, the Library is here to answer your questions or talk you through the process. Please reach out to Candice Walker, our copyright officer at for support.

CC BY SA license

Except where otherwise noted, the content in these guides by Tacoma Community College Library is licensed under CC BY SA 4.0.
This openly licensed content allows others to cite, share, or modify this content, with credit to TCC Library. When reusing or adapting this content, include this statement in the new document: This content was originally created by Tacoma Community College Library and shared with a CC BY SA 4.0 license.

Tacoma Community College Library - Building 7, 6501 South 19th Street, Tacoma, WA 98466 - P. 253.566.5087

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