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Copyright Guide: How to Request Permission

Using Copyrighted Materials

How to Use Copyrighted Materials

Due to U.S. copyright law, a great deal of creative content is automatically copyrighted upon creation. You should assume something is copyrighted until you have details about its copyright status.

Before using content, follow these steps

​​You do not always need to contact someone to get permission. Some licenses like Creative Commons grants permission to use work in advance.

Requesting Permission from a Copyright Owner

Identifying the Copyright Owner

It's important to remember that the copyright owner is not always the original author/creator. 

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

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

What to Include in a Request

When you request permission, you want to get written permission (i.e. email or letter).

In your request, you should include the following:

  • The specific rights you would like (i.e. to do what with the content)
  • The set amount of time you would like the rights for
  • Whether you want exclusive or non-exclusive rights (typically non-exclusive)
  • Identify the geographic area where you will use the work
  • Ask what conditions you need to meet for the use (be prepared that the owner might ask you to pay)

Sample Permission Letters

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.

Meet with a Librarian

Meet with a research librarian to discuss a copyright question.


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.

Additional Resources

Questions? Need help? Ask a Librarian
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