Obtaining permission to use copyright material

Fact sheet P-13

Issued: 14th July 2004
Last amended: 26th July 2021
Fact sheet P-13: Obtaining permission

Before you can legally sell, publish or distribute someone else’s copyright work, you must obtain the permission of the copyright owner. This rule applies even if you are only using extracts or samples from the work.

Although national laws may allow some limited use without permission under the terms of fair use or fair dealing, (see our fact sheet Copyright law - Fair use for more information), these are very limited and quite specific exceptions. If you are in any doubt whatsoever, you should always get the permission of the copyright owner. If you are found guilty of copyright infringement or plagiarism you could face legal charges, fines, or in extreme cases even imprisonment.

  1. Where to get permission

    It is normal to request permission via the publisher of the work. The publisher will often have a permissions department to deal with such requests, or may use the services of a copyright clearance or licensing service. If the publisher cannot give permission directly, they will certainly know who you should contact, (as they will have obtained permission themselves in order to use the work in the first place).

    If for example, the copyright owner is personally known to you, it may be possible to obtain permission via a private agreement. In such cases you should ensure you get an agreement in writing to avoid any future disagreements.

    For website content, it is normal to contact the webmaster of the site. The webmaster may either give permission directly or refer your request to someone in the company who can deal with your request.

    For photographs, (e.g. wedding pictures), it is normally to contact the photographer, (or company), that took the images. As they will normally control the rights to the photos, and will have their own reproduction or duplication charges.

  2. When to get permission

    Simply stated, the sooner you request permission, the better. The publisher may need time to contact the owner or arrange licensing agreements, and there is no guarantee that permission will be granted. It may also be that the terms of any licensing agreement makes the proposition prohibitive. You will need time to re-think your strategy if you are unable to use the work you want.

  3. Should I expect to pay?

    Yes. If you intend to make a commercially saleable product, you should normally expect to pay royalties linked to the number of units sold. For non-commercial products, a flat fee may often be negotiated.

  4. Applying for permission

    To speed up any request, you should include the following information in a request:

    Include full contact details of the person wishing to use the work, (or agent if applicable), to ensure that you can be contacted in case of any questions.

    • A full description of the work you wish to use:
      • The name of the author and title of the work.
      • If the work is a book, the ISBN number, (or ISSN for periodicals).
      • An exact description of the content you wish to include. (including any title, version, illustrations/images/diagrams, chapter/section/page numbers, start and end points of the extract required, etc.)
    • How the work will be used:
      • Will it be adapted, performed, or re-recorded?
      • If it will be changed in any way, give specific details of the changes, and assurances that the work will not be used to mislead, slander, or bring the author into disrepute.
      • Will it be included within other content, and if so what is the overall context, and what proportion of the overall work does the copied content represent.
      • An estimated number of units you expect to sell, (if applicable), and the time scale over which you expect to sell them.
      • How will the work be reproduced, (i.e. published in book format, released online, etc.)
      • Give assurances that the work will be properly attributed.
  5. Attribute the work correctly

    Always include the source or your material and state the name of the owner and include the correct copyright notice for the copied work.

  6. What if I can’t locate the copyright owner?
    If you have made reasonable efforts and still cannot trace the copyright owner then, within certain jurisdictions, it is possible to apply for a licence from the government on the grounds that this is an orphaned work.
    Details for this can be found at:

    If your county/region is not listed above, please check with your national intellectual property office. Orphaned work licensing schemes are relatively new and not yet widely adopted.

    Remember: Copyright work is someone’s property and (excepting fair dealing exclusions) should not be used without the consent of the owner, (or obtaining an orphan work licence where applicable). If you use work without permission, and the copyright owner does appear they may wish to take action against you for infringement and you may be required to pay damages for any lost royalties and legal costs.

Recommended reading

Fact sheet P-27 - Using the work of others.

Fact sheet P-09 : Fair use