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Seeking permission to use copyright material


Whom do I ask?

In most cases you would seek permission from a publisher. Sometimes this will be easy to identify, such as with a traditionally published book or an online academic journal: look for a contact address or email, often labelled 'permissions' or something similar. In some cases the publisher may not own the rights to the material in question if they have themselves obtained permission to use it or if the author retained ownership of all rights through the author-publisher agreement.

With web-based material, ownership can be harder to determine, especially material published less formally. It is common to find material in one place that was sourced from another or is even embedded in one place and literally located on another server somewhere completely different. In any case you should try to establish who the original owner is and make contact with that person. 

This applies to images too: if the image is attributed to another person or company, go directly to that source.

If you know the author, a private agreement is always possible.

In all theses cases make sure you retain evidence of all permissions (emails, faxes or letters). If you make contact by telephone, make sure the permission is documented in some way (e.g. by a follow-up email).

Don't expect an immediate response, as it can take time to clear rights if ownership is complicated. And it's not uncommon to never receive a response. This doesn't mean you can just go ahead having tried to obtain permission. Rather it's the opposite: if it's in copyright you can't use it without explicit permission - unless fair dealing applies of course.

Staff seeking permission

In some cases, neither the University's licensing agreements nor the rights granted by the Copyright Act allow staff to copy material for students. In such cases, you need to seek permission from the copyright holder. When seeking permission, include the following information in your request:

  • precise details of what will be used (i.e. exact page numbers and images - avoid imprecise statements such as “some graphs,” “one chapter” and the like); include ISBN/ISSN numbers for books/periodicals.
  • the dates between which the material will be used (it is especially important to avoid misunderstandings such as the copyright holder assuming that the intended use will be for a single year when the person making the request might want to use the material indefinitely);
  • what it will be used for (e.g. paper details, other materials used in conjunction with it);
  • how the material will be copied and distributed (print, email, CD, Blackboard, etc.). If the material is to be distributed electronically, most rights holders will require that access to the material be through a password-protected medium like Blackboard;
  • who will receive it (staff/students), with numbers indicated as precisely as possible; and
  • how you propose to attribute the material and any copyright message to students that might accompany it (e.g. "This material has been copied with permission from the rights holder. You may use it for your own study in this paper but must not copy it further or share with anyone outside the paper, except where your use would fall within fair dealing allowed under NZ law.").

Students seeking permission

The above generally applies for students too, though your use is likely to be for your own thesis or research work rather than for a class. Make it clear what your intended use is. For example, if you intend to make your thesis available electronically through the OUR Archive or to use material in an article based on one of your chapters this is quite different from use for the hard copy that is only available to walk-in library users or via inter-loan.  

The University Library has developed a permissions template letter on its thesis information page (in the box labeled 'Copying where you need permission'). This is designed for students but equally applicable to other researchers.

Costs & terms of use

Some publishers will charge for use of material, with the amount depending on what you intend to do with it. Even students sometimes have to pay, for example, a flat fee of $100 for using a graph in a thesis; but you should always check the terms of use or copyright information on a publisher's page, as sometimes these have a statement such as 'use in student theses is permitted'. For teaching staff wanting to use something in a class, the cost may well be based on the number of copies you need. If your use is commercial, such as publishing your own book, then often the agreement will be offered based on the number of copies to be printed or even as a share of royalties.

Read the terms under which the publisher grants permission very carefully. They may stipulate very specific attribution requirements. And it is now common practice for a rights holder to offer options depending on whether your use is hard-copy based or electronic. Some terms of use restrict permission to a certain time period, e.g. granting a licence to use an electronic image for one year (which may be technically impossible, rendering this option useless to you).