Frequently Asked Questions About Permissions to Reprint

What material is copyrighted and who can grant permissions to reprint?

Under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, an original work is protected from the moment it is created, usually for the life of the author plus 70 years – unless the rights are explicitly waived. This legal principle applies to original written materials whether the work is published or unpublished, whether it appears in print or other media (such as the Internet), and whether or not it has been registered officially with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Normally the author owns the copyright, including control of any permissions to reprint, unless the work is produced under a contractual or employment agreement ("work for hire") or if the copyright is sold or licensed to another party. Academic publisher often require authors to surrender their copyrights; trade publishers normally do not. The easiest way to determine who owns the rights is to look on the copyright page that appears at the front of most books and journals. In some cases – e.g., when a work is published by, or on behalf of, a government agency – the material becomes part of the "public domain" and no permission to reprint is required.

Do I need permission to use copyrighted material in a term paper, dissertation, or other unpublished writing?

No. Nevertheless, you should give proper credit – e.g., a bibliographical citation – for any borrowed material. Copying or even paraphrasing another author's work without credit may be considered plagiarism. This form of intellectual theft does not necessarily amount to a copyright violation. Plagiarism is, however, a serious breach of trust with your readers, teachers, and academic or professional institutions. As such it can have career-damaging consequences.

Do I need permission to quote copyrighted material in a published book or article?

It depends.Generally speaking, it's OK to quote brief passages for purposes of scholarship, criticism, comment, news reporting, or teaching. Those exceptions are described as "fair use" under U.S. copyright law. No permission to reprint is required. On the other hand, borrowing substantial portions of a work, especially for commercial purposes, does require permission. Otherwise, it may be considered a copyright infringement and a cause for litigation, especially if economic harm can be proved. A good rule of thumb is: When in doubt, seek permission to reprint.

Do I need permission to reprint multiple copies of copyrighted material for classroom use?

Yes. Under a 1991 federal court decision, Basic Books, Inc., v. Kinko's, the "fair use" exemption no longer covers the photocopying of book chapters or articles without permission from copyright holders. Unfortunately, some universities continue to violate this decision, making themselves liable for damages in court.

What about posting materials for students on "electronic reserve" or on the Internet without permission?

The principles of the Kinko's decision apply here as well, even though the technology has evolved. Georgia State University is currently being sued by several publishers for engaging in this form of piracy. The Association of American Publishers has reached agreements with a number of other universities reaffirming the common-sense principle "that practices and uses that require permission in print under the fair use provisions of the copyright act require permission in the electronic realm as well."

Do I need permission to reproduce copyrighted material on the Internet – e.g., via email, Usenet or listserv discussions, or a Web site?

Maybe. Electronic media have created some gray areas in copyright law. The "fair use" exemption often applies when a work is quoted for noncommercial purposes of comment, criticism, education, etc., and when credit is given. On the other hand, you could be sued if the copyright holder alleges financial losses as a result of unauthorized use. Again, when in doubt, requesting permission is the safest course.

Do I need permission to link my Web site to another?

No. There's a doctrine of "implied public access" on the World Wide Web that allows you to link to other sites and, in turn, gives others the right to link to yours. (Indeed, most webmasters are grateful for the free advertising.) At the same time, however, "netiquette" recommends that you notify the sites to which you have linked and that you remove such links if requested to do so.

Which pages of the Language Policy Web Site require permissions to reprint and which do not?

This information can be found in the copyright notice at the top or bottom of each page.


*Disclaimer: These interpretations are those of a writer with his own special axes to grind, not an attorney with expertise in copyright law. For more information you might want to consult other Internet resources on the subject, in particular the Copyright Clearance Center. By the way, this page is copyright © 2009 by James Crawford. All rights reserved.

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