Skip to Main Content

Copyright Basics

An introduction to the principles of copyright law.


If you want to use a copyrighted work and an exception like fair use doesn’t apply to your use, you will have to get permission from the copyright holder to use it. In addition, work that is not protected by copyright may still be governed by terms of use or another license. Other restrictions like trademark, trade dress, trade secrets, rights of publicity and privacy, patent, terms of use, or ethical considerations may also apply.
The basic steps to obtain permission are:
  1. Determine what rights are needed. 
  2. Identify the copyright holder. 
  3. Send your request (sample letters available below).
  4. Keep a written record of the permission received. 
The guides in the resources section below offer more detail on how to obtain permission for your use.

Public Licenses

Public licenses allow certain uses of copyrighted works by the public. Examples are Creative Commons licenses and open source software licenses. 
Users may freely use works issued under an open license, without additional permission from the creator, as long as they abide by the terms of that license, which may include an attribution requirement, permitting only non-commercial use, permitting use but not the creation of derivative works, or other requirements. 

Permissions and Public Licenses Resources

Introduction to the Permissions Process (Stanford University Libraries)

This guide offers a detailed overview of what permission is and how to seek it. 


Asking for Permission (Columbia University Libraries)

This page offers an overview of how to ask for permission, along with several model permissions letters. 


Permissions FAQ (Association of University Presses)

This guide offers permissions guidelines as they typically apply to university press publishing, including several model permissions letters. 


Creative Commons

Creative Commons offers a suite of public licenses and information about how to use them.