How to Acquire Permissions for Copyright-Protected Material to Ensure Your Book is on the Right Side of the Law

Copyright protects the expression of facts, information, and ideas, but not the facts, information, and ideas themselves. Copyright also protects the format, organization, sequence, and style of the presentation as part of the expression.

Material Requiring Permission to Use

  • Quotations or passages (from a book, blog/website, film/television, journal, newspaper, or magazine article).
  • Reprint of lyrics or poems.
  • Trademark usage.
  • Artwork and images.
    > Photographs
    > Paintings
    > Charts, tables, or graphs
    > Reproduction of web pages or screenshots
    > Film stills and film grabs
    > Reproduction of advertisements

Material Not Requiring Permission to Use 

  • Facts or ideas. 
  • Public domain information. 
  • Substantially modified material. (Note: paraphrasing is only appropriate for limited portions of the original material and should always credit the source.) 

Review your manuscript and note the copyright-protected material you will need to acquire permission to reprint or reproduce.


Plagiarism is the appropriation of someone else’s work without proper acknowledgement, presenting the materials as if they were one’s own. Plagiarism is unethical, unprofessional and an infringement of copyright. In serious cases of plagiarism, it may be necessary to suspend sales, or make financial compensation to the complainant (the author or copyright holder of the original piece).

When quoting word-for-word from the work of another person, quotation marks or other distinguishable formatting should be used, and the source of the quoted material must be acknowledged.

Fair Use

The Fair Use copyright statute states that “fair use of copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” If your work does not fall into any of the above categories, then using copyright-protected material in your work is probably not considered Fair Use.

You must obtain copyright permission if the material you create using the copyrighted work is to be used for “commercial use, advertising use, or profit”, which is most often the case when producing a book.

Quotations of copyrighted works, which are only a few sentences in length, may be allowable under the Fair Use statute as long as the work is attributed to the original writer. A word of caution: ASCAP and BMI, which represent songwriters and music publishers, are extremely vigilant about the use of copyrighted material without permission. A safe policy is to never reprint even a single line of lyrics from a song without permission from the copyright holder.

You can view the full Fair Use statute at

Public Domain Material

Material and works that are in the public domain do not require permission to use. A work may fall into the public-domain if: 

  • The copyright has expired - such as Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre, Pachelbel’s Canon symphony, da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting, and anything written by Shakespeare.
  • The work was never protected by copyright - such as in the case of material created by officers or employees of the U.S. government as part of a government job (for example, a handbook on buying a new home or a military battle report).

The U.S. copyright office provides the pamphlet “How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work” available to download at

Rights to Request from the Copyright Holder

Depending on your publishing plans, you will request non-exclusive rights to reproduce the material in the current book and all subsequent edi­tions of the work, in all derivative works, in any and all media and in all languag­es, throughout the world.

Occasionally the rights granted are limited to a specific language or form of media or may have a condition attached (such as payment of a fee, are granted only for a short period of time or are not granted for future editions). Avoid print-only limitation term or print run limitation.

Be aware that you may have to pay for permission to use the material, and permission fees can vary greatly. Some publishers charge ad­ditional fees for each separate use. You should have alternative sources in reserve if permission proves difficult or expensive to obtain.

Always work with an experienced attorney when negotiating rights.

How to Acquire Permission to Reprint Written Material

Contact the publisher of the material and inquire what the process is to acquire permission to reprint the material. The copyright holder will usually provide the permission agreement documents. To find the name and contact information of the publisher for:

  • Books: The publisher is listed on the Copyright Page.
  • Print articles: The publisher is listed on the masthead of the publication.
  • Lyrics: The publisher is listed in the accompanying digital booklet (or the print booklet in the compact disc case). If no digital booklet is available, use a search engine to locate the publisher of a particular song.
  • Website: The publisher may be listed on the contact page or the masthead. The name of the publisher almost always accompanies the copyright notice (often located near the bottom of each website page).

How to Acquire Permission to Reproduce Artwork & Images

Contact the publisher of the material and inquire what the process is to acquire permission to reproduce the artwork or image. The copyright holder will usually provide the permission agreement documents.

Works of Art         

To reproduce the image of a work of art, the author needs to source a photograph of it. If it is a painting that you want to use, to be able to apply for permission from the correct source, you need to find out who owns the copyright.

  • If the artist died more than 70 years ago, the painting will no longer be protected by copyright.
  • If the artist died less than 70 years ago, or is still alive, you will need to ask permission of either the painter or the painter's estate (most twentieth-century artists are still in copyright).
  • If the painting is owned by someone privately, you will need to ask permission of the owner.
  • If the painting is on display in a gallery, the gallery owner must give permission, too. 

In any of those instances you will also need to establish if the photographer owns the copyright in the photograph of the work of art. If so, you will also need to apply for permission from the photographer.

Be aware that it may be necessary to pay a reproduction fee to the owner, and a copyright fee to the artist, which can be expensive. For most fine art, it is less costly to approach museums and galleries direct, rather than contacting a commercial art picture library. Photographs and permission for contemporary artists can usually be obtained through their dealer or gallery. 

Buildings, sculptures, models for buildings and works of artistic craftsmanship (in other words, an artistic work that is not a painting, drawing, engraving, photograph or work of architecture), which are permanently situated in a public place or in premises open to the public may be photographed or filmed without permission.


Usually the author should apply to the publisher for permission to reproduce a published photograph. However, in some instances, copyright may reside with the photographer. The source of the photograph is listed in the figure caption alongside the published image, or in the acknowledgements, copyright page or photo credits section of the publication. Apply for permission to the credited source.

Be aware that copyright-holders have a “right of integrity” in illustrations, which means you do not have the right (unless specifically granted to you) to alter the work in any way. Cropping a photograph or changing the color of the artwork is an example of infringing upon the right of integrity.

If you want to reprint an image you have personally photographed of someone, you must seek permission from that person. 

Certain photographs and films, which are commissioned for private and domestic purposes are also subject to the “right of privacy”. This means that the person who commissioned the photos can prevent copies of the photographs being issued to the public. This right lasts for as long as the photograph remains in copyright.

Also note: Images that include private citizens (as opposed to public officials and public figures), may require releases for each individual in the photograph.


Additional Resources from the Copyright Office: