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When do you need to seek permissions?

If you want to use another creator's work in your scholarship or teaching, you should first see if the work is copyrighted. If it is, you should conduct a fair use analysis to see if your use qualifies. If you find that the use does not meet the fair use threshold, you should plan on seeking permission from the copyright holder. If the work is openly licensed with a Creative Commons license (see the "open licensing" page), you do not need to seek permission. 

In general, you need to obtain written permission from the copyright owner in the following cases where fair use or another exception is inapplicable. As noted, there may be other permissions required in special cases.

Quoted excerpts from published materials. In general, fair use will allow educational/non-commercial use of a small amount of material that does not constitute the heart of the work and is genuinely needed for purposes of the use. Stanzas of poetry, letters, song lyrics, diary entries, and other items that constitute either the complete work or a large part of it will usually require permission. The author of a letter, rather than the recipient, generally holds copyright to the letter, but permission to publish the letter will also be required from the recipient.

Quoted excerpts from unpublished materials. Items in this category include unpublished letters, speeches, and papers. Where the work has not been previously published, you should obtain the author’s permission to publish any part of it.

Quotations from archival materials. Although the archive may or may not hold copyright, you should obtain permission from the archive as holder of the materials.

Images, photographs, tables, charts, maps, graphs, and similar works. You should plan to obtain permission from not only the copyright owner of the work (i.e., the creator of the work), but also from the owner of the physical object (e.g., a museum, archive, or individual). Where photographs depict private individuals in private settings, you may also need permission from those in the photo.

Interviews. Depending on the circumstances, copyright to an interview may be held not only by the interviewer, but also by the interviewee (for example, such as where the interviewee is tape recorded or recorded verbatim). Therefore, permission should be obtained from both individuals.

Government documents and materials. Although U.S. government works (i.e., those created by a governmental officer/employee as part of his/her official duties) cannot be copyrighted, this does not mean that you can freely use any documents or materials in the government’s possession. The U.S. government may hold copyright to a work where it has been assigned by the copyright holder.


How to seek permissions

Here are some guidelines for seeking permissions:

  • Reach out to the copyright holder in writing. If you can't find who controls copyright, you may consider reaching out to the Libraries' Scholarly Impact Department for assistance. 
  • In your email or letter, be as specific as possible, including information about the work you want to use, how you intend on using it, who will have access to it, and for how long. 
  • Use a permission letter template. University of Michigan has some templates, which you can also find linked in "Resources."