Getting permission to incorporate copyright content into your work, such as extracts or images, requires you to enter into an agreement with the copyright holder of a work. It is a good idea to ask for permission at the beginning of your project after considering all possible uses you may wish to make of your work. This agreement (sometimes called a “licence”) must give you the right to use the work in the ways that you need that are otherwise restricted by copyright.
Steps involved in permission request
Be sure the material is copyright-protected. Although the majority of content used in an education context is capable of copyright protection, in some cases it will not be. If copyright has expired then the work falls into the public domain, meaning permission is not required. Some works do not attract copyright protection, such as certain public documents and small or insubstantial works like names, titles and headlines.
Determine precisely which rights you require. Do you intend to communicate your work to the public, such as uploading the work on a publicly accessible website? How much of the third party content do you wish to use, how do you propose to use it and for how long?
Identify the copyright owner. Make sure you identify the person who owns the copyright. Remember that the creator of the work may not be the copyright owner and there may be more than one copyright owner in a single work. There may be other owners in illustrative works. If the work you wish to use has been published, it is advisable in the first instance to contact the publisher to ascertain ownership status. In many cases the publisher will be authorised to grant permission for use. Often collecting societies and professional associations of copyright creators are a useful source of information when trying to identify or locate the copyright owner.
Contact the copyright owner to request permission. Ideally you should request permission in writing, either by letter or e-mail. Provide a brief description of yourself and your work and explain precisely how you would like to use their work. It is a good idea to emphasise, if relevant, that the work is for educational, non-commercial purposes. Remember that the copyright owner is entitled to require payment of a fee or impose certain conditions.
Follow up. If you do not receive a response to your written request for permission, send a follow-up letter.
Keep records. Keep a record of all communications including documentary evidence of any permission you receive.
What if permission cannot be obtained?
Paraphrase or reduce. If you have been unable to obtain permission to reproduce copyright material, it is prudent not to include it in your work. However, in many cases it may be feasible to paraphrase the content rather than make a direct copy. Remember it is not an infringement of copyright to refer to someone else’s work or to ideas discussed in it. Another option is to reduce the amount of material copied so that it falls within a statutory exception (although fair dealing with copyright material for research or study does not permit publication of that material).
Suppress. If you have been unable to obtain permission to reproduce copyright material and you intend to publish your thesis in an online repository, you may consider placing the unauthorised material in a separate section of your thesis which can then be suppressed from public view. In such case, once material has been removed, you may replace it with a statement such as “This text [or this image] has been removed for copyright reasons” and cite full bibliographic details.
Provide URL links. Simply providing a URL link to material you are referring to is not reproducing the material so there is no risk of copyright infringement.
Acknowledgment no substitute for permission. In all cases it is important to reference the material you reproduce or quote from. However, acknowledging the source of a work is not a substitute for permission. If you need permission to use all or part of a work, identifying the author or the work is not enough.