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Obtaining Permission

Options for determining if a work is under copyright protection:

  1. Examine a copy of the work for such elements as a copyright notice, place and date of publication, author and publisher. If the work is a sound recording, examine the disc, tape, cartridge, or cassette in which the recorded sound is fixed, or the album cover, sleeve, or container in which the recording is sold, or
  2. Request that the U.S. Copyright Office conduct a search of its records or you may search yourself, or
  3. Find copyright holder contact information at the Writers and Artists and Their Copyright Holders website, or
  4. Seek the assistance of the Copyright Clearance Center to expedite the process. Type in the name of the work you want permission to use in the search box "Get Permission / Find Title", or
  5. Consult the college Copyright Officer at


Contacting the copyright holder directly:

  1. If you know who the copyright owner is, you may contact the owner directly and ask for permission.
  2. Ask yourself:
    1. Are you using the author's actual work? (i.e. text, music, photograph, illustration, painting, etc.)
    2. Is the author's expression protected by copyright? Is the copyright protection expired or in the public domain? If the works are not protected by copyright, you can use them freely without permission.
    3. Does your use of the work go beyond the bounds of Fair Use and other Copyright law provisions?
  3. Once you have determined that the copyright holder's permission is required, you should identify and contact the copyright holder for permission. It is strongly advised that permission be secured in written form.


Legal Risks of Infringement

1. Your copies and equipment may be seized.

2. You may be required to reimburse losses incurred by copyright holder, or pay back profits you gained.

3. The owner can seek monetary damages of up to $30,000 per work infringed [17 U.S.C. Sec. 504(c)(1)].  In a case where the copyright owner sustains the burden of proving, and the court finds, that infringement was committed willfully, the court in its discretion may increase the award of statutory damages to a sum of not more than $150,000. 

4. You may have to pay attorney fees and costs of litigation.

To be eligible for statutory damages and attorney fees, the work generally must be registered with the U.S. Copyright Office before the infringement occurred.  In the case of a published work, the Copyright Act allows a grace period of 3 months after first publication to make the registration (17 U.S.C. Sec. 412(2)). Registration can occur well after publication, but the owner will qualify for the added rights only for infringements occurring after the registration date.  Even if statutory damages are eliminated, you can still be subject to all other remedies such as actual damages and injunctions.

5. If you have willfully infringed a protected work, you may face criminal penalties and federal prison time.

Crews, Kenneth. Copyright Law for Librarians and Educators. Chicago: American Library Association, 2012.  Print.