Getting permission to use copyrighted works is, in theory, a very simple process: you find out who owns the copyright and you contact them and ask for permission. In practice, though, it’s not always that easy.
The first hurdle is figuring out who owns the copyright. Generally, this will either be the author or the publisher. As a shortcut, it’s easiest to contact the publisher because even if they don’t own the copyright, they will know who does. And publishers are usually easy to track down. There are many directories available in the Library to help you get names and addresses.
For cases where the copyright owner/publisher is hard to identify, things can get complicated. There is no one way to sort this out. It depends on what clues you have from the work in hand. Basically, it becomes a little research project of its own. The Library can help with this. Also, the U.S. Copyright Office will research copyright ownership for a fee.
Once you have found someone to ask, you will find that response time varies considerably. Anything from a few hours to a few months is certainly possible. Be aware that inability to identify the copyright owner does not excuse you – legally speaking – from getting permission; nor does silence imply permission.
Sample Permissions Letter
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to request permission to copy the following for use in my classes next semester:
Published in: The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, vol. 57, no. 1, pp.71-94
Copyright: The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Inc., 1998
Distribution: The material will be distributed to the students in my class
Type of reprint: Photocopies
Use: Supplementary teaching materials
I have enclosed a self-addressed envelope for your convenience in replying to this request. Your response by ___[date]___ would be appreciated.
I (We) grant permission to ___[faculty member]___ to reproduce the above material.
____________________________ _________________________________ _______
(signature) (name/title) (date)
Please use the following credit line: