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Copyright Compliance: Seeking Permission

Information intended to encourage and support copyright compliance as faculty members design effective course readings, lectures, and other educational materials, whether for the physical classroom or an online teaching environment.


This guide provides legal information but does not constitute legal advice.

Seeking Permission: Resources

Model Permissions Letters - Columbia University Libraries
Sample Letter - Copyright Information Center, Cornell University
Get Permissions - Copyright Clearance Center

Why Do I Need to Seek Permission?

You are required to seek permission when you wish to use the creative work of another copyright holder, unless a fair use argument can be made. Infringing an owner's copyright can subject you to legal action. If you cannot make a fair use argument, you must seek permission from the copyright holder if the work you want to use is not:

  • in the Public Domain 
  • governed by a Creative Commons license 
  • an Open Educational Resource (OER)

Asking for Permission

There are a number of options you can choose from when seeking permission:

  • Verify that there are no alternative options for the material you are using that may already be licensed for classroom use. You can work with your liaison librarian to determine alternatives.
  • Consider developing a licensed Course Pack of required materials for your students. The Simmons University Bookstore can facilitate this process.
  • Request permission from the copyright holder. You can adapt the Permissions Letter examples from the Tools and Resources box. You can work with your liaison librarian to determine contact details for the copyright holder.
  • You can request permission via the Copyright Clearance Center online form. This is a Pay-Per-Use service.

Permission may or may not be granted may depending on the nature and intended use of the work.  There may also be a cost associated with gaining permission.  If the scope of permission granted is insufficient, or the cost is too great, you may work with your liaison librarian to identify viable alternatives.

You should document and preserve your efforts to find a copyright holder and get permission. If you do not succeed in locating the owner, this paper trail might help establish that the work is, or you thought it was, an "orphan work" -- i.e., a work no longer controlled by its owner -- and show your good faith efforts to contact the copyright holder before using the material.