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Library Research Guides

Obtaining Copyright Permissions: Overview

This guide explains how to obtain copyright permission particularly when using music, movies, and images.


Do you need to obtain copyright permission?

Is the work you want to use in copyright? 
Does your use fall outside of Fair Use or other copyright exception?

Then yes, you need to obtain copyright permission! This guide will show you how to locate and contact copyright holders and obtain permission to use copyrighted materials.

For additional assistance with copyright permissions, please contact the U-M Copyright Office. 

This guide was prepared by Robert Spence, JD candidate, University of Michigan Law School as an extern with the UM Copyright Office in the fall of 2011. We wish to thank Professor Sherri Smith, Professor Michael Rodemer, and their students in the School of Art & Design for their valuable comments.

The information presented here is intended for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have specific legal questions pertaining to the University of Michigan, please contact the Office of the General Counsel.

Fair Use - 17 USC 107

Fair Use

Fair use allows limited use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder for purposes such as criticism, parody, news reporting, research and scholarship, and teaching. While many educational uses may be fair, you need to evaluate your use each time you are reproducing copyrighted material — to show in your class, to hand out copies, to include in your writing, or to post on CTools.

There are four factors to consider when determining whether your use is a fair one. You must consider all the factors below, even though all the factors do not have to be in favor of a use to make it a fair one.

The four fair use factors are as follows:
  1. Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. Nature of the copyrighted work, such as whether the work is fiction or non-fiction, published or unpublished;
  3. Amount of the work used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, such as using a poem in its entirety, or using one chapter from a long book;
  4. Effect of the use upon the potential market for the copyrighted work.

You have to apply the four factors to each use situation.  Just because your use is for non-profit educational purposes does not automatically give you permission to copy and distribute other people's work.

Fair Use Evaluator

The Fair Use Evaluator is a tool to better understand how to determine the "fairness" of a use under the U.S. Copyright Code; provided by the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy and Michael Brewer. 

Copyright Questions?

The U-M Copyright Office provides help with copyright questions for U-M faculty, staff and students. Please email us with questions or visit our website for more information.

Primary Copyright Resources