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Obtaining Rights for Using Copyright-protected Work

You may use a work protected by copyright if:

  • Your use is allowed by law
  • You have a license
  • You obtain permission

This section includes topics on how to use copyright-protected work under the following circumstances:

Fair Use – Analysis and Information
Determine if your use fits within the fair use exceptions that do not require permission.

Classroom and Library Use
Specific guides for teaching Use and library copying

Existing UW License
Your use may fit within the terms of an existing license and, if so, you don’t need to obtain additional permission.

Requesting Permission
If you do need permission, how you go about getting it.

Fair Use

Section 107 of the Copyright Act includes provisions for fair use of otherwise copyrighted work and acts as a limitation on the exclusive rights of copyright owners. The rationale for fair use is so that use of copyrighted material “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” 

There are several factors to be considered when determining the applicability of fair use including:

  1. The purpose and character of the use — for example, is the use of a commercial nature or is it for nonprofit educational purposes?
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work – for example, is the work fiction or nonfiction? Creative or factual? 
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work —for example, creating a substitute for demand for the work? 

Each of the four factors must be considered in evaluating fair use; it is not sufficient to use any less than all four collectively. 

Think about that fourth factor – does your use of the work effect the potential market or value of the work? For example, does copying and compiling all of the pages of a textbook for use in instruction eliminate the need for students to purchase that textbook? If so, fair use would likely not be a valid defense for use of copyrighted materials. 

The U.S. Copyright Office has created a Fair Use Index, a user-friendly and searchable database with the goal of making the principles and application of fair use more accessible to the public. The Index tracks judicial decisions in multiple federal jurisdictions around the country to demonstrate how courts have determined fair use cases. 

Unfortunately, it is not possible to perfectly determine what material is fair use and what material is not. Also it is important to remember that fair use is a defense to a claim against infringement. Asserting fair use implies that there is already a dispute at hand. 

Teaching Use

Some works may be used without permission:

  • For display or performance
  • In the classroom
  • In distance learning when transmitted only to enrolled students

Copyright law recognizes the need for instructors and students to be able to use copyrighted works in the course of teaching activities. Like fair use, this is a provision that limits the exclusive rights of the copyright owner and allows for certain uses of copyrighted works without permission of the copyright owner.

Distance Teaching: See the TEACH Act section

Internet-based or TV

If the teaching activity is to be internet-based or televised, the use of copyrighted materials must be in accordance with the TEACH Act of 2002.

Educational Institutions

While the provisions for performance and display of materials are still very broad, educators are only able to claim teaching use if they work for an accredited nonprofit educational institution that meets the TEACH Act requirements.

Employees of for-profit organizations or instructors at institutions that have not established copyright policies may not have protection when using copyrighted materials in distance education.

Not Covered by TEACH Act

Copying, adapting, or distributing copies of a work in the course of teaching are not covered by this provision. If your intended use falls outside the situations addressed by this provision, you may want to consider if fair use applies to your situation, and if not, seek permission.

Library Copies of Copyright-protected Work

Libraries may make copies if:

  • Not for commercial advantage
  • Library is open to the public
  • Copies include a copyright notice
  • Copy becomes the property of requestor

Copyright law allows patrons of libraries and archives to obtain a copy of a work in a library or archive collection for the limited purposes of private study, scholarship, or research. The library may copy a work without infringing on the rights of copyright owners if certain conditions are met: the library must not profit from the copying, the library must be open to the public, and the work copied must contain a notice of copyright.

The limited exemption does not apply if additional copies of the same work are made and provided to the same patron or if the copying is part of a “related or concerted” effort to provide multiple copies to the public.

Library content licenses

Libraries also must remember that some of the contracts into which they have entered may have specifically overridden this exemption.


Also, it is important to remember that, unless separate permission is obtained for distribution, materials lawfully obtained from libraries for private study should not be commercialized or distributed on the internet. Even if the distribution is for a non-commercial purpose, the library exemption does not include such distribution.

For more information on whether this exception applies to your use, you may want to review the library copying provisions in copyright law.

Licenses for Copyright-protected Work

Licenses are a form of contract that:

  • Grants permission to use works
  • Are limited by type of use
  • May cover your use

Permissions you may already have

When you buy a copy of a software program or download an app for your phone, or buy access to digital materials such as electronic journals, you will have a license that describes how the work may be used without additional permission. Often these licenses will tell you if you can print materials for internal use, make archival copies, and if you can use the material on more than one computer. Before using a work, you should always look to see if any licenses are in effect.

Click through licenses

On websites, downloaded apps, software as a service (SaaS) subscriptions, and works distributed electronically, there may be a license you must read before accessing the materials (often called an “end user license agreement” [“EULA”] or “click through” license). These licenses may also be linked to the copyright notice, general site information, or referred to as legal notices.

Copyright statements

Many commercial websites have copyright statements that make it clear they intend for you to seek permission for all uses of their material besides viewing it on the site. Listed below are a couple of examples of online licenses from commercial company websites:

“The contents of this website may not be copied, reproduced, republished, uploaded, posted, transmitted, or distributed, in whole or in part, for any purpose other than individual viewing of this website, without the express prior written consent.”

“The compilation (meaning the collection, arrangement and assembly) of all content on this site is the exclusive property of Company and protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. All software used on this site is the property of Company or its software suppliers and protected by U.S. and international copyright laws. The content and software on this site may be used as a shopping resource. Any other use, including the reproduction, modification, distribution, transmission, republication, display or performance, of the content on this site is strictly prohibited.”

Should you use works without permission from sites with the above type of license? Probably not.

You may have a fair use or classroom use argument, but the license is pretty explicit in its restrictions and you need to consider the terms carefully with respect to your intended use. This type of license is common on commercial websites, in particular those containing copyrighted and trademarked cartoon characters.

Online license

The following is an example of an online license from a university site:

“Permission to use, copy, modify, and distribute this software and its documentation for educational, research and non-profit purposes, without fee, and without a written agreement is hereby granted, provided that the above copyright notice, this paragraph and the following three paragraphs appear in all copies.”


This type of online university license grants many permissions quite clearly. If the intended use is one of those listed in the license, you do not need to seek additional permission. You need to follow the instructions provided. In the example cited above, the online license requires users to include the copyright notice and other language contained on the site.

It is important to remember, if your intended use is outside the scope of the license, you should seek permission.

Requesting Permission

Information to include in your request:

  • The title of the work
  • Name of author, artist, editor, compiler
  • Exact description of what you want to use
  • Nature of your intended use

If your use does not fit within the criteria for one of the exemptions discussed in the preceding sections, or you do not have a license to use the work for your intended purpose, you need to obtain permission from the owner of the work prior to using it.

Permissions for course packs

If you are seeking permission to use copyrighted works in a course pack, the UW Copyright Permission Center will contact the publishers, secure necessary permissions, and pay any royalties for you.

Form of permission request

If you wish to clear permissions yourself, be sure to clearly state what you intend to use and how you intend to use the work in terms of the five exclusive rights of copyright. The five copyright rights include the right to:

  • Reproduce
  • Adapt
  • Distribute
  • Display
  • Perform the work

Some examples of permission request include:

  • Handout for classroom use. For example, if you plan to circulate copies of a work to your classroom you will need permission to reproduce and distribute the work. 
  • Use work in a publication. For example, if you are planning to modify a work and include it in a publication, permission will need to be obtained from the copyright owner. 
  • Digitize for online use. If you plan to digitize a work and load it on a website, you will need to obtain permission to reproduce, adapt, and display the work.
  • Transparency. If you plan to include a work in a transparency or presentation at a conference but not actually distribute the work, you will need permission to reproduce and display the work.

The more accurate and complete you are in your request, the easier it will be for a publisher or owner to evaluate your request and grant permission.

Requests in writing

Requests for permission should be in writing and include the following information:

  • Title of the work
  • Name of author (artist, editor, etc.)
  • ISBN
  • Description of the material to be used (page numbers, frames, length, portion, etc.)
  • Nature of your intended use (course pack, publication, performance, etc.)
  • If part of a publication, describe the publication (author, title, publisher, publication date)

    As applicable:
  • Number of copies to be made or expected audience for electronic access
  • Number of instances for which permission is sought (every quarter, once per year, etc.)
  • Number of performances to be made
  • Description of how the work will be displayed

It is recommended that you include a stamped, self-addressed envelope to facilitate the owner’s reply, and provide your complete contact information should there be any questions.