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Scholarly Journal Publishing: What are Permissions?


In the publishing world a permission is an authorization given to a publisher to quote or reproduce material from a copyright work.  Your publisher should provide you with some guidance in the author guidelines if you need to seek permission to quote or reproduce material from a copyright work.

As an author, you will be responsible for obtaining/seeking permission to use third party material in any article or book that you publish.

When is permission required to use third party material?

  • Permission should be obtained from the rights holder to reproduce any "substantial part" of any copyright work
    • "Substantial part" is subjective and depends both on the significance of the copied material and the quantity of material used.
  • Works covered include literary works (text and tables), photographs, slides, line illustrations, or other artwork
When is clearance of rights not required?
  • Material is not subject to copyright protection
    • Copyright only protects original works
  • Fair Use/Fair Dealing
  • Material is in the Public Domain
    • These materials are no longer protected by copyright and can be reproduced without permission
Who should I contact to obtain permission?
  • Permission must be sought from the copyright holder
    • In most cases this is the publisher of the original work
      • Publishers will not always own the reproduction rights for photographs and illustrations; the photographer or illustrator may have retained these rights.
What should I do if I cannot located the copyright owner?

Locating the correct copyright owner can be difficult especially if the rights have reverted to the author or have been transferred to another publisher.  No matter how difficult it is, you as the permission seeker are responsible for exhausting every opportunity to seek out the copyright owner.  Document everything! Keep records of all correspondence as proof of your attempts to obtain permission.  No reply from the copyright owner does not mean that you may proceed with using the material.

Copyright works for which a prospective user is unable to identify, locate and contact the copyright owner to obtain permission to use such works are known as "orphan works".  Some publishers have signed Safe Harbor provisions notifying prospective users that , to the extent that those publishers own "orphan works", users who comply with guidelines in those provisions will be entitled to certain "safe harbor" protection.  Requirements to qualify for "safe harbor" protection include:
  • That a user of an orphan work can show that they have made a reasonably diligent good faith search for the copyright owner
  • That the use makes clear and adequate attribution to the original work, author, original publisher and copyright holder, if possible and as appropriate under the circumstances
  • If a copyright owner is subsequently identified, the user must pay a reasonable royalty and not reuse the work unless agreed with the copyright holder