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Copyright for Instructors

This guide provides information about copyright for University instructors.

Please note!

The information presented in this guide is for informational purposes only and should NOT be construed as legal advice.  If you are looking for legal advice, please contact the University of Maine Office of General Counsel.

Why would I obtain permission to use copyrighted work?

If you want to use copyrighted material and you aren't certain whether or not that use would qualify as a fair use exception or another exception to copyright limitations, you might want to obtain permission to use the copyrighted material to make sure you are not infringing on someone else's copyright.

How do I request permission to use copyrighted material?

Once you have decided you are going to request permission to use material, here are some steps to take to request permission:

  • Figure out who or what organization holds copyright in the work.  If the work is published, you can check the publisher's website to see if there is a designated contact person or department that deals with copyright permissions; if there is, they may be able to help you.  Otherwise, you may need to do some research of your own to figure out who the copyright holder is.
  • Contact the copyright holder to explain why you want permission to use their work.  Keep in mind that although telephone contact may move more quickly, written documents may have more legal force.  (Here is an example of a letter requesting permission to use a copyrighted work.)  You may wish to keep a copy of the document(s) you send as well as any documents you receive from the copyright holder for several reasons.  First, if you need to get in touch with that copyright holder again, you have documentation showing what you did last time.  Second, if your use of the copyrighted work is ever challenged, you can show the documents involved in your request for permission.
  • Wait for the copyright holder to reply to your request.  The absence of a reply from the copyright holder is generally not considered to be permission.
  • Find out what type of permission, if any, the copyright holder is willing to give.  Generally speaking, there are a few types of permission that are most common for copyright holders to grant:
    • A copyright holder may provide you with a license that gives you terms under which you are permitted to use the copyrighted work.  A license may be simple or very complex, but if you agree to its terms, you must comply with those terms to avoid copyright infringement.  Paying for the license may involve paying a flat fee or having some amount of royalties or profits from your work assigned to the copyright holder.
    • A copyright holder may also provide you with a release, which is a document stating that the copyright holder agrees not to take legal action against you for doing something.  In other words, you are released from any potential legal wrongdoing.
    • You may buy the copyright from the copyright holder, which would make you the new copyright holder, with the legal rights that status includes.  Be aware that buying an item isn't the same as buying the copyright of that item.  If you buy a rare piece of art, you are only purchasing the item and not its copyright (though it is possible to buy a piece of art AND its copyright in two separate transactions).
  • Decide whether you are willing to agree to the terms the copyright holder offers.  Negotiation may or may not be possible, but if an agreement cannot be reached, you may not be able to use the copyrighted work.
  • If the copyright holder is unwilling to give you permission to use the work, you must abide by that decision.
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