Step 4: Getting Permission

Identifying the Copyright Owner | Fees | Licensing Agencies | Permission Letters | Sample Permission Letter

Identifying the Copyright Owner

Many publishers, authors, and artists have licensing agencies handle permissions for them, so a good place to start is with one of those agencies.

It may be necessary or desirable to contact the copyright owner directly; that is usually the person or organization named in the copyright notice.

If they do not own the copyright, they should be able to refer you to the proper resource. Copyrights may also be transferred to others or perhaps the copyright is now owned by heirs. The Copyright Office maintains an online, searchable database of materials registered since January 1978. All formats are available.

Stanford University maintains the Copyright Renewal Database. "This database makes searchable the copyright renewal records received by the US Copyright Office between 1950 and 1993 for books published in the US between 1923 and 1963." The database contains only book renewals. This time period is one of the most difficult in determining whether a copyrighted book passed into public domain by not having the copyright renewed.

See "Locating Copyright Holders" by Lloyd J. Jassin for some other suggestions.


Fees can range from the nominal to expensive.

Licensing Agencies

Many copyright owners have licensing agencies handle copyright permissions for them. They often are more expedient in replying. A number of these agencies are listed below. They will usually charge a fee for their services. Sometimes the copyright owner will give the same permission without a cost, but it may take longer.

Some Licensing Agencies:

Print Materials

Access: The Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency

The Authors' Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS)
Administers rights in Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The Authors' Registry

Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI)
Primarily church music, but also videos and articles.

Copyright Clearance Center (CCC)
For parts of books or journal articles this would be the first place to contact.

Firms Out of Business (FOB)
An online database containing the names and addresses of copyright holders or contact persons for out-of-business printing and publishing firms, magazines, literary agencies and similar organizations that have archives housed in libraries and archives in North America and the United Kingdom.
Instant licensing of digital content.

National Writers Union

United Media
For licensing cartoons and other syndicated items

Universal Press Syndicate
Licenses cartoons and other syndicated content

(WATCH) Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders
A resource of The University of Texas at Austin (US) and The University of Reading (UK) that contains the names and addresses of copyright holders or contact persons for authors and artists.

Musical Works

These organizations usually provide "blanket" licenses for all the labels they cover. For individual song licenses you may want to contact the copyright holder(s) (often the record label) directly.

American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP)
Licenses performance rights.

Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI)
Licenses performance rights.
Represents over 300,000 musicians and 4.5 million works

The Harry Fox Agency, Inc. (HFA)
Established by the National Music Publishers' Association, Inc. Supplies mechanical licensing that allow you to reproduce and distribute copyrighted music.

Music Publisher's Association
Does a cross search of ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC.
Recording Industry Association of America
Represents major record producers

Licenses performance rights.

Sound Exchange
Represents over 850 recording companies. Collects royalties for copyright holders.

Visual Images (Artwork)

Artists Rights Society
65 Bleecker Street
New York, New York 10012
(212) 420-9160

Corbis Corporation

Media Image Resource Alliance (MIRA)
May view stock photography images and obtain permission

Visual Artists and Galleries Association, Inc.
521 Fifth Avenue Suite 800
New York, New York 10017
(212) 808-0616
(212) 808-0064 Fax

Motion Pictures and Television

Corbis Corporation
Processes rights for television programs.

Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC)
Offers umbrella licenses for non-commercial use.

Swank Motion Pictures, Inc
Offers public perfomance licensing for non-theatre showings.

Dramatic Works

Baker's Plays
100 Chauncy Street
Boston, MA 02111-1783
(617) 482-1280
(617) 482-7613 Fax

Dramatists Play Services, Inc.
440 Park Avenue South
NY, NY 10016
(212) 683-8960
212) 213-1539 Fax

Music Theatre International (Major musicals)
545 Eighth Avenue
NY, NY 10018-4307
212) 868-6668
212) 643-8465 Fax

Samuel French, Inc.
45 West 25th Street
NY, NY 10010-2751
(212) 206-8990
(212) 206-1429 Fax


University of Texas: Getting Permission
Includes permission sources for materials in multiple formats

Permission Letters

The letter, on letterhead, should include:

  • A complete description of the material to be used including author, title, editor, compiler, translator, and edition.
  • The exact portion of the material, pages, and a photocopy if possible
  • A description of how it will be used, including how many times, the number of people it will be distributed to, under what conditions (i.e. on or off campus, online course...)
  • How the material will be reproduced (photocopy, off-set, digitized, etc.)
  • A place for the recipient to sign to indicate that permission has been granted.

Remember that a non-response (silence) is not permission. If you receive oral permission, make sure you document the conversation and follow up with a letter.

Sample Permission Letter

Permissions Department
Town, ST 12345

Month, Day, Year

Dear Sir or Madam:

I am writing to ask your permission to copy the following for classroom use next quarter September 2001:

Author: John Smith
Book Title: The Life of John Smith, 3rd ed., 1982 (out of print)
Copyright: 1979, 1982
Pages: 23-35 of Chapter 10 "Life Abroad" (photocopy enclosed).
Number of Copies: 60 (3 sections of History 256, U. S. History to 1865)
Distribution: Supplied to students as free handout fall quarter 2001
Type of reprint: photocopy

Enclosed please find a self addressed, stamped envelope for your convenience in returning this signed permission.

If you do not solely control copyright of the requested material, I would appreciate any information you can provide about the copyright owners, including most recent addresses if available.


Bob Jones
College of DuPage
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137

Please initial any statement that applies:

  • I hereby represent that I have the authority to grant the permission requested herein.
  • I am the sole owner/author of the work.

Author or company authorized signature _________________________
Date _______________________