Copyright and Permissions

It is the author’s responsibility to obtain permission for the use of material copyrighted by others. Because obtaining permission often takes several weeks or months, we urge you to send out permission requests as early as possible. Keep records of all correspondence. If you are unable to contact the rights holder of a particular piece of copyrighted material for permission to reuse, consult with your publisher regarding the best course of action. All permissions should accompany the materials they are associated with when submitted to your publisher.

Ethical Concerns

Reproducing materials from any community involves more than just legal precedent. Please be aware of and sympathetic to any mores the peoples and cultures with whom you are working hold with regard to your research and publishing plans. Be open, honest, and precise in your discussions with what you want to use and the means by which you intend to distribute it—print, online, open access, etc. Don’t assume you can use materials without offense, or that permission to use something in one way suggests permission to use it in others without being specifically cleared to do so.

Determining Whether Permission Is Required

There are many gray areas in copyright law, especially as regard fair use, which your publisher will weigh against their own distinct set of standards. With that in mind, the following sections are sound bases upon which to begin reviewing your materials:

Quick Takes

  • Anything published before 1923 is in the public domain and can be used freely.
  • Materials created before 1923 but never before published may still be in copyright.
  • Materials that are freely available in public spaces (e.g., murals, statues, materials on the internet) are not, simply because of their location, in the public domain. The standard criteria that applies to other works applies equally to them.
    • Exception. Pictorial representations of architectural works that have been constructed do not require permission from those involved in the designing or building of the structure; instead you will only require the permission of the photographer.
  • If you are securing materials from an archive or museum, there are two distinct forms of permission in play: (1) copyright and (2) access. The former speaks to legal code, the latter to that particular institution’s guidelines in allowing access to use or reprint materials in their keeping. Work with archivists and reference librarians in ascertaining what kinds of permissions, if any, you’ll need for the materials you are interested in reproducing.
    • In some cases materials may have been donated under conditions that limit how they can be used.
    • Similarly, an institution can limit your access to representations of works of art, even those that are in the public domain. Gaining access to those materials generally requires the consent of the housing agent.

Previously Published Material

If any of your Texts have been previously published in journals or anthologies (or contributed volumes), you must seek permission to reprint the material unless it has been extensively revised for republication. For example:

  • A revised piece that follows the same thread of an argument but is simply abridged for republication or expanded to reflect new research or ongoing developments requires permission.
  • Use of the most substantive, vital portions of a previously published piece, even if the sections are relatively short, requires permission.
  • Culling small amounts of material from a previously published work to advance a new line of thought does not require permission.
  • Use of material that could be considered peripheral to the published piece, and which does not constitute a major portion of the new piece, does not require permission.

Prose Passages

Quotations from newspaper articles or other works of prose require permission if what is quoted amounts to more than 10 percent of the whole.

Poetry and Song Lyrics

Quotations from lines of poetry or song lyrics do not require permission as long as what is quoted is being discussed critically and is only two to four lines (or ten seconds of playing time transcribed) and never more than 10 percent of the whole.

  • Exception. Poetry or lyrics used as epigraphs are considered a decorative use and require permission to reprint.

Unpublished Works

Permission is required from the rights holder for any amount of unpublished archival material quoted, such as private correspondence and manuscripts.

Unpublished Interviews

To reproduce interviews, be they audio, video, or transcribed, you will need permission from your institution’s institutional review board (if applicable) and from the interviewee(s). Some publishers will require written confirmation from each party, others only your confirmation that all parties were agreeable to your use of the material. You will also need consent from any party who taped, recorded, or transcribed the sessions in question.

  • Note. If you are not reproducing direct quotes or have altered or obfuscated the names of those interviewed, formal permission may not be necessary. Check with your publisher on how best to proceed.


Photographs other than the author’s own require permission. Exceptions are screen captures and promotional publicity stills for films, which are considered fair use under the justification that they are small parts of a much larger whole. If there is a credit line or copyright notice to the publicity photo, your publisher must be consulted and will determine if it requires permission. Fair use does not apply to photographs of staged performances. Permission for material from websites follows the same guidelines as material from printed sources unless the content is explicitly designated as open access or public domain.


Artwork, including paintings, drawings, and comics, require permission. Artwork produced prior to 1923 is considered public domain, but the author must abide by any agreement signed to gain access to the work.


Advertisements, posters, interior pages of newspapers or magazines, book and magazine covers, album art, and fliers are considered fair use when reproduced in their entirety. No cropping can occur.

Tables, Diagrams, Charts, Maps, and Graphs

Visual representations of data are considered fair use as long as the works do not have a strong artistic element, as determined by your publisher.

Additional Resources

For more information regarding the use of copyrighted materials, as well as interpretations of fair use and information in the public domain, see the Univeristy of Chicago’s permission guidelines for authors, the Cornell Copyright Information Center site, and the Association of American University Presses’s permission FAQ.

How to Request Permission

Letter of Request

Email each copyright holder, indicating the material for which you are requesting permission. Specify that you are seeking nonexclusive world rights in all languages and mediums in perpetuity. The following letter can serve as a template:

Dear Copyright Holder:

I am writing to request your permission to reproduce the following material:

Describe the image or text here; attach a copy or screen capture of the work if necessary.

This material is to be used as part of my forthcoming scholarly work tentatively titled “Title”, to be published in print, electronically, and online by Publisher.

If you are not the copyright holder for this material, please provide the name and address of the person or publication that can grant me permission.

I am requesting nonexclusive publication and selling rights throughout the world in all languages and for all editions and media, including reprints by Publisher or by other publishers licensed by the Publisher. I further ask that permission be extended to include the material in connection with advertising and promotion of the work. Since Publisher may receive requests from nonprofit organizations to make special editions such as Braille editions, large-type editions, and so on, for use by blind or partially sighted students, will you please also extend your permission to allow the Publisher to permit these nonprofit organizations to make special editions of our title without further permission from you?

Full credit will be given to the source. If you wish to specify the exact wording of the credit, please do so in your response. If you are willing to grant permission, please respond in the affirmative. Thank you for your consideration of this request


Your Name

Please provide the following information:

  • Approved by:
  • Credit Line (provide exact wording):
  • Original Publisher:
  • Date of first copyrighted publication:

Review Agreements

Review all permission agreements you receive with an eye for any language that restricts use to a certain territory, print run, or medium. Discuss any concerns you have about permissions agreements with your publisher immediately.


Unless otherwise agreed upon, you are responsible for paying all permissions fees.

Submitting Permissions to the Publisher

Scans or copies of all emails and letters you receive granting permission, as well as copies of non-deliverable or returned requests, must be sent to your publisher with the submission of those materials with which they are associated. In addition, maintain records of all phone calls made in the process of obtaining permission.

List of Material

Along with the granted permissions, provide a detailed list of all materials in your submission that you are not responsible for creating or for which you assigned rights to another party, along with the location or publication information for each.