copyright Fair Use permissions requesting permissions sample permissions letter

A Writer’s Guide to Fair Use and Permissions + Sample Permissions Letter

Andrea Costa Images / Flickr

Observe from Jane: This publish was originally revealed a number of years ago, however has been up to date and expanded.


Whenever you determine to immediately quote, excerpt, or reproduce another person’s work in your personal—whether that’s a guide, weblog, magazine article, or one thing else—you could have to think about, for each use, whether or not or not it’s essential to search specific, authorized permission from the work’s creator or proprietor.

Unfortunately, quoting or excerpting someone else’s work falls into one of many grayest areas of copyright regulation. There isn’t a authorized rule stipulating what quantity is OK to use without in search of permission from the proprietor or creator of the fabric. Main authorized battles have been fought over this query, but there’s nonetheless no black-and-white rule.

Nevertheless, in all probability the most important “rule” that you simply’ll find—when you’re looking online or asking around—is: “Ask explicit permission for everything beyond X.”

What constitutes “X” is determined by whom you ask. Some individuals say 300 words. Some say one line. Some say 10% of the phrase rely.

But any guidelines you find are based mostly on a common institutional guideline or a person’s expertise, in addition to their general consolation degree with the danger involved in instantly quoting and excerpting work. That’s why opinions and tips differ so much. Furthermore, each and every instance of quoting/excerpting the identical work might have a special answer as to whether or not you want permission.

So there isn’t any one rule you possibly can apply, solely rules. So I hope to present some clarity on those rules in this submit.

When do you NOT want to search permission?

You do not want to seek permission for work that’s in the public domain. This isn’t all the time a simple matter to determine, but any work revealed earlier than 1923 is in the public domain. Some works revealed after 1923 are also in the public domain. Learn this information from Stanford about how to determine if a piece is within the public area.

You additionally do not want to search permission if you’re simply mentioning the title or writer of a work. It’s like citing a reality. Any time you state unadorned information—like an inventory of the 50 states in america—you aren’t infringing on anyone’s copyright.

It’s additionally effective to link to something online from your web site, blog, or publication. Linking doesn’t require permission.

Lastly, in case your use falls within “fair use,” you do not want permission. That is the place we enter the trickiest area of all when it comes to permissions.

What constitutes “fair use” and thus doesn’t require permission?

There are four standards for determining truthful use, which sounds tidy, however it’s not. These standards are obscure and open to interpretation. Finally, when disagreement arises over what constitutes truthful use, it’s up to the courts to make a decision.

The four criteria are:

  1. The aim and character of the use. For instance, a distinction is usually made between business and not-for-profit/instructional use. If the purpose of your work is business (to generate profits), that doesn’t mean you’re out of the blue in violation of truthful use. Nevertheless it makes your case less sympathetic when you’re borrowing loads of another person’s work to prop up your personal business venture.
  2. The character of the copyrighted work. Details can’t be copyrighted. More artistic or imaginative works usually get the strongest protection.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion utilized in relation to the complete quoted work. The regulation doesn’t supply any proportion or phrase rely here that we will go by. That’s because if the portion quoted is taken into account probably the most helpful a part of the work, you could be violating truthful use. That stated, most publishers’ tips for authors supply a rule of thumb; on the publisher I labored at, that guideline was 200-300 phrases from a book-length work.
  4. The impact of the use on the potential market for or value of the quoted work. In case your use of the original work affects the probability that folks will buy the unique work, you may be in violation of truthful use. That’s: In the event you quote the fabric extensively, or in a method that the unique supply would not be required, then you definitely’re probably affecting the marketplace for the quoted work. (Don’t confuse this criteria with the aim of evaluations or criticism. If a destructive assessment would dissuade individuals from shopping for the source, this is not associated to the truthful use discussion in this submit.)

To additional explore what these 4 criteria mean in apply, ensure to read this wonderful article by lawyer Howard Zaharoff that initially appeared in Writer’s Digest magazine:  “A Writers’ Guide to Fair Use.”

In follow, when you’re solely quoting a number of strains from a full-length e-book, you’re more than likely within truthful use tips, and don’t need to search permission. But to emphasize: every case is totally different. Also, much is determined by your danger tolerance. To remove all attainable danger, then it’s greatest to either ask for permission or remove use of the copyrighted material in your personal work. Here’s a flowchart that can assist you consider what you may need to ask permission for.

do you need to request permission how to legally quote others

Three essential caveats about this chart

  • Nothing can stop someone from suing you in case you use their copyrighted work in your revealed work.
  • The only method your use of copyright is examined is by means of a lawsuit. That’s, there isn’t a basic policing of copyright. Subsequently, how you handle copyrighted content material is determined by how danger averse you’re. Should you determine not to seek permission since you plan to use a fair use argument, be prepared with the best-possible case to defend your use of the copyrighted content within the event that you’re sued.
  • Should you intend to produce material that is accessible worldwide and in digital type (akin to content material on the internet, ebooks, and so on), and in case you are utilizing content material thought-about in the public domain in the USA, you must double-check whether the content can also be within the public area in different nations. You possibly can study extra about this challenge in The Public Area by Stephen Fishman.

In the event you’re involved about your danger, you can even search for the rights owner’s identify and the keyword “lawsuit” or “copyright” to see in the event that they’ve tried to sue anybody. Nevertheless, simply because someone hasn’t sued but doesn’t imply they gained’t sue you.

When you search permission, you want to determine the rights holder

Once you’ve decided to search permission, the subsequent process, and some of the troublesome, is figuring out who presently holds the copyright or licensing to the work. It won’t all the time be clear who the copyright holder is, or if the work is even beneath copyright. Listed here are your beginning points.

  • First, confirm the actual supply of the textual content. Typically writers use quotes from Goodreads or different on-line sources without verifying the accuracy of those quotes. (As somebody who’s misattributed on Goodreads, I can affirm: individuals are misattributed on a regular basis.) For those who don’t know the supply, and you don’t know the length of the source work, and you don’t know if what you’re quoting is the “heart” of the work, then you’re putting your self vulnerable to infringement.
  • In case you’re in search of permission to quote from a guide, look on the copyright web page for the rights holder; it’s often the writer. Nevertheless, assuming the ebook is presently in print and on sale, normally you contact the publisher for permission. You may also attempt contacting the writer or the writer’s literary agent or property. (Usually, it’s greatest to go to whomever appears probably the most accessible and responsive.)
  • If the guide is out of print (typically you possibly can tell as a result of editions are solely obtainable on the market from third parties on Amazon), or if the writer is out of enterprise or otherwise unreachable, it is best to attempt to contact the writer, assuming they’re listed because the rights holder on the copyright page.
  • It’s also possible to examine government data. Most revealed books, as well as different materials, have been officially registered with the US Copyright Workplace. Here is a wonderful guide from Stanford on how to search the government data.
  • For photograph or picture permissions: The place does the photograph seem? If it’s in a newspaper, magazine, or an internet publication, it is best to search permission from the publication if the photograph is taken by certainly one of their employees photographers or in any other case created by employees. In the event you’ve found the photograph on-line, you need to work out the place it originated from and/or who it’s initially credited to. (Attempt utilizing Google Image Search.) When unsure, seek permission from the photographer, holding in thoughts that many photographers work by way of large-scale businesses corresponding to Getty for licensing and permissions. Photograph permissions can get complicated shortly if they function fashions (chances are you’ll want a mannequin launch as well as to permission) or trademarked merchandise. Here is a wonderful, in-depth guide for those who need it: Can I Use That Image?

Usually, you or your writer will need nonexclusive world rights to the quoted material. “Nonexclusive” means you’re not stopping the copyright proprietor from doing no matter they want with the original materials; “world rights” means you might have the power to distribute and sell your personal work, with the quoted material, anyplace on the earth, which is nearly all the time a necessity given the digital world we stay in.

Also, permission is usually granted for a selected print run or time period. For example, in the event you seek permission for a 5,000-copy print run, you’ll want to secure permission a second time for those who return to press. (And in case you publish a second version, you’ll need to search permission once more.)

In the event you’re beneath contract with a publisher

Nearly each traditional writer supplies their authors with a permissions type to use for their undertaking (ensure to ask should you haven’t acquired one!), however when you’re a self-publishing writer, or you’re working with a brand new or inexperienced house, you might need to create your personal.

That will help you get started, I’ve created a sample permissions letter you possibly can customise; it is going to be especially useful for those who’re contacting authors or people for permission. Will probably be much less crucial should you’re contacting publishers, who typically have their very own type that you simply want to signal or full.

To request permission from a writer, visit their web site and look for the Permissions or Rights department. Listed here are links to the New York publishers’ rights departments, with directions on how to request permission.

Will you be charged for permission?

It’s arduous to say, but once I worked at a mid-size publisher, we advised authors to be ready to pay $1,000–$three,000 for all mandatory permissions charges in the event that they have been quoting commonly and at size. (Publishers don’t cover permissions fees for authors, except in special instances.) In the event you’re looking for permission to be used that’s nonprofit or instructional in nature, the charges could also be decrease or waived.

What should you don’t get a response or the circumstances are unreasonable?

That’s unfortunate, however there’s little you are able to do. In the event you can’t wait to hear back, or should you can’t afford the charges, you shouldn’t use the work in your personal. Nevertheless, there’s something referred to as a “good faith search” choice. In case you’ve gone above and beyond in your efforts to search permission, but can’t decide the copyright holder, reach the copyright holder, or get a response from a copyright holder (and you could have documented it), this can be weighed as part of the penalty for infringement. This isn’t protection, nevertheless, from being sued or being discovered guilty of infringement.

How to avoid the necessity of looking for permission

The easiest way to keep away from looking for permission is to not quote or excerpt another individual’s copyrighted work. Some consider that paraphrasing or summarizing the unique—somewhat than quoting it—can get you off the hook, and in some instances, this can be acceptable. Ideas will not be protected by copyright, however the expression of those ideas is protected. So, placing one thing in your personal phrases or paraphrasing is often okay, as long as it’s not too close to the best way the unique concept was expressed.

You can too attempt to prohibit your self to using work that is licensed and out there underneath Artistic Commons—which doesn’t require you to search permission if your use abides by certain tips. Study more about Artistic Commons.

What about looking for permission to use work from web sites, blogs, or in different digital mediums?

The same guidelines apply to work revealed on-line as in additional formal contexts, akin to print books or magazines, however attitudes tend to be more lax on the Web. When bloggers (or others) combination, repurpose, or otherwise excerpt copyrighted work, they sometimes view such use as “sharing” or “publicity” for the unique writer somewhat than as a copyright violation, particularly if it’s for noncommercial or instructional functions. I’m not speaking about wholesale piracy right here, however about in depth excerpting or aggregating that might not be thought-about OK in any other case. Briefly, it’s a controversial challenge.

Does truthful use and permissions apply to pictures, art, or other forms of media?

The identical rules apply to all varieties of work, whether written or visual.

Sometimes, you might have to pay licensing or royalty charges for any photographs or paintings you need to use in your personal work. Should you can’t discover or contact the rights holder for a picture, and it’s not in the public area, then you definitely can’t use it in your personal work. You want specific permission.

Nevertheless, more and extra photographs are being issued by rights holders underneath Artistic Commons slightly than traditional copyright. To seek for such photographs, you possibly can look underneath the “Creative Commons” class at Flickr or VisualHunt.

Word: In the event you find “rights-free images,” that doesn’t mean they are free to use. It simply means they’re often cheaper to pay for and general much less of a problem.

No permission is needed to mention track titles, film titles, names, and so on.

You do not want permission to embrace music titles, movie titles, TV present titles—any type of title—in your work. It’s also possible to embrace the names of places, things, events, and individuals in your work with out asking permission. These are information.

However: be very cautious when quoting music lyrics and poetry

As a result of songs and poems are so brief, it’s harmful to use even 1 line without asking for permission, even in case you assume the use could possibly be thought-about truthful. Nevertheless, it’s nonetheless advantageous to use music titles, poem titles, artist names, band names, film titles, and so on.

If you’d like to seek the advice of with someone on permissions

I recommend my colleagues at Copy Write Consultants, who have experience in permissions and proper use of citations.

For more help