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Library Research Guides

Copyright Basics

This guide provides answers to common copyright questions.

Copyright Questions?

The University of Michigan Library Copyright Office provides help with copyright questions for University of Michigan faculty, staff and students. Please email us with questions or visit our website for more information.

Legal Advice

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.

If you require legal advice in your personal capacity, the lawyer referral services operated by the Washtenaw County Bar Association and the State Bar of Michigan may be helpful to you.


If you want to use a copyrightable work that is not in the public domain in a way that would violate one of the rights of copyright holders and is not permitted by a user’s right, you must get permission from the copyright holder.

In some cases, the copyright holder may already have granted you permission to make the use you want to make. For example, Creative Commons licenses and open source software licenses allow copyright holders to grant permission to the world at large. If the work you want to use is available under a public license and your intended use complies with the terms of that license, you do not need to seek further permission. For more information about Creative Commons licenses, refer to our Creative Commons guide. There may also be a non-public license that covers your use of the work. For instance, many colleges and universities license sets of copyrighted works for use by their affiliates.

Another option is to seek permission for the specific use you are making. To do that, you need to identify the work’s copyright holder(s) and contact them to ask for permission to use the work. Whenever possible, make your request in the format preferred by the copyright holder. Most publishers prefer that you make your request via email or webform.  Always keep copies of your correspondence, especially the signed permission forms. Below are two samples of permission request letters that you can modify to suit your needs.

For more information, you may wish to consult our guide, Obtaining Copyright Permissions.

If there is no public license and you are unable to get specific permission, you will need to change your plans. You could use a different work. You might also be able to change the way you are planning to use the work, in order to make it a fair use.

Copyrights Held by the University of Michigan

When the University of Michigan holds copyright in a work, university policy dictates that “the University units most closely associated with the creation of [that work] may authorize uses of [it].” In an exception to this general rule, the Office of Technology Transfer controls uses of certain software as well as deliverables funded by sponsored activity agreements.

Thus, to obtain permission to use a work whose copyright is held by the University of Michigan, you will need to determine what unit is most closely associated with the creation of the work you want to use. Then, you will need to find a contact person within that unit. The work itself, the university website, and the university directory are likely to be the most helpful tools for this search.

For permission to use works published by the University of Michigan Press, please send permissions requests according to the directions on its website.

Trademarks Held by the University of Michigan

For permission to use University of Michigan trademarks, including the "Block M," please see the University of Michigan Brand Standards Guide.