Obtaining Permission to Use Copyrighted Material

If you determine that you do, indeed, need to seek permission to use a work, here is some information that may help.

  1. Identify the copyright owner
    • Look for a copyright statement at the beginning of the published work to confirm the copyright owner.
    • Rarely, an author of an article or chapter may retain the rights to their work. In those cases, the copyright statement for the entire publication may be misleading. However, contacting the copyright holder for the entire publication should clear up any confusion.
  2. Secure Permission
    • For journal articles where the publisher holds the rights, look on the journal's web page for a section called "rights and permissions" for details about submitting permissions requests.
    • For books where the publisher holds the rights, check the verso of the title page for contact information or check the web page of the publisher for a permissions department.
    • For audio-visual materials, look for an "acceptable use" or "rights and permissions" file.
    • In the case of author held permission, if you cannot find contact information for the copyright holder, try contacting WATCH (Writers, Authors, and their Copyright Holders).
    • If you know you will need to pay for permission, many publishers use the Copyright Clearance Center, which offers a pay-per-use option.
    • You may also draft your own permissions letter. The Medical College of Wisconsin offers a very clear format for these letters.
  3. Keep a detailed record of the process
    If you should ever be questioned about your use of copyrighted materials, having clear records of your decision making and permission seeking process will help you defend your position.

This document is a policy statement only and is not intended to replace the advice of legal counsel.

For more information, please contact Jessica Bell, Director, Office of the Library and Instructional Design, MGH Institute of Health Professions.

Back to Top