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Copyright and Fair Use Guidelines

A brief overview of Copyright, Fair Use, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the TEACH Act.

Do You Need Permission?

Before you assume that you need to get permission, check to see if it is necessary. You may not need permission to use a work if

  • it is licensed to the University
  • your use is allowed by a Creative Commons license.
  • the work is in the public domain
  • your classroom use is allowed by the copyright law
  • your online use is allowed by the TEACH Act
  • your use passes the fair use test

NOTE: If you are recording a person or planning to subsequently incorporate student work into another class, it is advisable to obtain a release in advance rather than having to seek permission later. 

Locating the Owner

The copyright owner could be the original creator, the creator's heirs, or the publisher. Note that there may be several owners involved with one work. For example, in order to use recorded music, you may need to get permission from the composer, the performers, and the recording company.

To find the owner or owners,

  • check the copyright notice in the work
  • check the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress for any registration, but note that registration is no longer required
  • check with collective licensing agencies, which handle permissions for authors, artists, musicians, and other professions.
    The Copyright Clearance Center is the most commonly used licensing agency for academic authors and publishers, but check the complete list for specialized agencies for music, film, drama, stock photography, software, cartoons, religious music, etc.

Usually an internet search will be sufficient for locating an author or publisher, but sometimes the search for a copyright owner can become complex.

Sometimes it is impossible to identify, locate, or get a response from the copyright holder: you are dealing with an "orphan work". In this case, you may

  • reevaluate whether your planned use is fair 
  • revise your planned use to fit within fair use principles
  • seek alternative materials

In any case, carefully document your attempts to seek permission.

Requesting Permission

Although you may make initial contact with a copyright owner by phone, you should secure permission in writing. Publishers and licensing agencies may have a form that they prefer that you use for requesting permission. Keep careful records of your correspondence in seeking permissions.

Your written request should be as specific as possible and include:

  • who you are
  • what work or portion of the work you wish to use
  • for what purpose you plan to use the work
  • for how long you wish to use the work
  • where and how the work will be used (classroom or online)
  • why you think this person can give you permission

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