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Copyright: Getting Permission

Information about copyright and how it affects your teaching, research, and learning at Davidson

Useful links

Searching copyright records

To see if a work has been registered for copyright or to see if the copyright was renewed, you'll need to check the U.S. Copyright Office records.

The Copyright Office has an online database to search for works registered since 1978.  This database also contains copyright renewals for book-related materials since 1950.

To search earlier registrations and renewals, search the Catalog of Copyright Entries.  Many of these have been digitized and can be seen here or here.  The Online Books Page has a useful guide:  How Can I Tell Whether a Copyright was Renewed?

Remember:  Works published today do not have to be registered to have copyright protection!


This site is intended for informational purposes only.  Library staff members cannot give legal advice.  For legal advice, you should contact an intellectual property attorney.

Step-by-step instructions

When deciding if you need permission to use a work, do the following:

  • If you believe your use is fair, you do not need to request permission. 
    If your use is not fair:

    Determining the copyright status of a work

    Copyright laws have changed over the years, so it often takes some investigation to determine a work's copyright status.  You'll need to know one or more of the following:

    • If and when the work was published
    • If the work was registered and renewed
    • The birth and/or death date of the author

    A copyright notice can provide information about a work's copyright status, but the lack of a copyright notice does not mean a work is not copyrighted.  Remember that a work does not have to be registered or even published to have copyright protection.

    Once you have this information, proceed to the Copyright Status of Works.

    Copyright status of works

    Unpublished Works

    If a work has not been published, the following copyright terms apply:

    • Life of the author, plus 70 years.  If the author died before 1942, you do not need permission.
    • If the author and/or death date is unknown, 120 years from date of creation.  If the unpublished work was created before 1892, you do not need permission.  

    Published Works

    The copyright status of a published work varies depending on when it was published and whether or not the work was registered, renewed, or published with a copyright notice.  

    Published without a copyright notice:

    • Published without a notice before 1978:  You do not need permission.
    • Published without a notice between 1978 and March 1, 1989:
      • Not registered within 5 years of publication:  You do not need permission.
      • Registered within 5 years of publication:  Life of the author, plus 70 years; you will need permission to use the work.
    • Published without a notice after March 1, 1989:  The work has copyright protection; you will need permission to use the work.

    Published with a copyright notice:

    • Published with a notice before 1923:  You do not need permission.
    • Published with a notice between 1923 and 1963:
      • Copyright was not renewed:  You do not need permission.
      • Copyright was renewed:  95 years after the publication date; you will need permission to use the work.
    • Published with a notice from 1964 to present:  The work has copyright protection; you will need permission to use the work.

    Not sure if a work has been registered or renewed?  See more information here or ask a librarian.

    Determining the copyright holder

    Identifying the copyright owner of a work may be a simple process or a complicated one.  Sometimes, the work's copyright notice supplies all the information you need to identify the copyright owner.  In other cases, the copyright has changed hands or more than one person owns the copyright to a single work.  It's important to remember that the author of a work is not always the copyright owner. 

    To identify the copyright owner of a work, check one or more of the following: 

    For more information, see:

    Need help?  Ask a librarian!

    Requesting permission

    After you have determined the copyright holder and the copyright status of a work, you may need to request permission to use the work.

    In some cases, if you are able to find the appropriate contact information, you may contact the copyright holder directly.

    In most cases, however, you will need to contact a licensing agency.  A list of collective licensing agencies can be found at the Copyright Advisory Office of Columbia University.

    When you request permission, be prepared to:

    • Identify the specific rights you would like
    • Limit the rights for a set amount of time
    • Request exclusive or non-exclusive rights
    • Identify the geographic area where you will use the work
    • Pay for the use of the copyrighted work
    • Get the permission in writing

    For sample permission letters, see:

    Remember:  Getting permission can take a while!  Although it doesn't always take this long, be aware that the process can take a few months.

    Questions? Need help? Ask a Librarian
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