How to plan for obtaining permissions

There may be occasions when you cannot copy material without the copyright owner's permission. In such situations, the following points may help:

1. Act immediately

Even though obtaining permission to use the material will be a high priority for you, it is likely that it will be a very low priority for the copyright owner. It is also possible that the copyright owner will ask for clarification on the scope of your request. Furthermore, in some instances it may be difficult to identify the copyright owner, which will require you to undertake some investigation. All of these matters may add considerable time to obtaining permission.

2. Cast your net widely

Where possible, make sure the success of your project does not hinge upon whether you can obtain permission to use a particular work. Identify substitute works and seek permission to use those works at the beginning of the project.

3. Identify all the copyright owners

Most materials have more than one layer of copyright, and in some instances, copyright may be owned by different people. For example, a music CD typically includes copyright in the lyrics, copyright in the musical works, copyright in the sound recording, and copyright in any artistic works printed on the CD. If you needed to burn copies of the CD you would need permission from the copyright owners in the lyrics, musical works and sound recordings. If you wished to reproduce the artistic works, you would also need permission from the copyright owner of the artistic works.

4. Identify all required uses of the material

Make sure that you do not inadvertently render the permission useless by failing to anticipate how you will use the material. Copyright owners have a number of economic rights that extend well beyond copying. If you only obtain permission to copy the work and for example, you needed to make the work available online, then your permission will be useless.

5. Anticipate alternative and future uses of the material

You may discover alternative uses for the material during or after your project. If you have not anticipated those uses, and they are not covered by the terms of the permission, you will need to obtain additional permissions from the copyright owner. Clearly, this is not desirable, and should be avoided if possible.

6. Make sure your request is balanced

Having made the above two points, make sure you balance your need for broad permissions against copyright owner's potential concerns. Keep your request for permission broad enough so that it will cover some unanticipated possible future uses, yet not so broad that copyright owners become so concerned about how you will use their material that they do not provide permission.

7. Know how much are you willing to pay

Sometimes the copyright owner may request some form of payment or royalty. Before you seek permission, you should know how much you are willing and able to pay for the material. If you do not do this, you will place your self at a disadvantage during negotiations.

8. Keep requests short and simple

It is unlikely that the copyright owner will give your request serious consideration if it takes effort to understand your request. Make sure you state in simple and succinct sentences what material you wish to use, how you intend to use the material, roughly how many copies you will produce, and to whom you will be distributing the material.

9. Identify potential win-win situations

Occasionally you may be able to deliver something for the copyright owner without having to compromise your own goals too much. Consider the common interests you may share with the copyright owner, and how you could both realize those goals. For example, it may be the case that the copyright owner would be happy to provide you with permission to use his or her material on your website, if you encourage users to visit the copyright owner's website in return.

10. Use the phone, but follow up in writing

Sometimes asking for permission over the phone can be more successful, as it is personal, and provides an opportunity to develop trust. If you do obtain permission over the phone make sure you always confirm the permission in writing. In some situations an email will be sufficient.

11. Say thank you in writing

Not only is it polite to thank people, but it is also good business, as you may need the copyright owner's help again at a later date. If the copyright owner has provided you with permission, it is likely that they will also be interested in the outcomes of your project; so keep the copyright owner informed, but do not deluge them with information.

12. Keep a copy of all permissions

Make sure you file all permissions in a safe and accessible place. You will need to refer back to the permission each time you use the material. You may also need to refer to the permission in the unlikely event that a dispute arises between you and the copyright owner. Consequently, you should never destroy your permission documents, as a dispute may arise after you have finished using the material.

13. Proactively manage acknowledgements.

Authors of works and films have a legal right to be properly acknowledged each time their work is used. If it is inappropriate or unfeasible to provide acknowledgements, you will need to obtain the author's permission not to acknowledge his or her work.

Please note, the author is not necessarily the copyright owner. For example, it is standard practice for publishers to request authors to transfer exclusive copyright in return for publishing their work.

Content by Copyright & Digitisation Officer

Last reviewed: 10 May, 2010