Last Updated: 16 Oct, 2023     Views: 33

Third-party copyright owner permission should be obtained if you want to copy beyond legally allowable content.

Who is the copyright owner?

The copyright owner could be:

  • The creator of the work
  • The estate of the creator of the work
  • The publisher of the work
  • The person or organisation who commissioned the work and contracted a transfer of copyright from the creator

However, a complex work could have a multitude of copyright owners. For example, a music video could incorporate a diversity of creators that hold copyright to the lyrics, score, musical arrangement, the audio recording, set design, choreography, cinematography, etc. In such cases, copyright ownership could depend on agreements and contracts.

What is involved with asking for permission?

Basic steps:

  1. Determine if it is necessary to get permission to use the third-party content 
  2. Identify the copyright owner and contact details
  3. Determine how you want to use and distribute the third-party content
  4. Write to the copyright owner asking for permission
  5. Pay any required fees
  6. Retain records of all correspondence

A written permission request should include:

  • The date
  • The name of the creator/s
  • An exact description of the content to be used (e.g. title, page numbers) and ideally a copy of the content or link to the web address
  • An exact description on how you want to use the content in your work, how you will distribute it and its likely audience
  • How you will flag appropriate use of the content for your audience, e.g. a TASL (title, author, source, license) attribution
  • Details about planned commercialisation, cost recovery or if there won't be any financial gain
  • A request for a written authorisation response

What am I allowed to do when I have permission?

Once permission has been obtained, you can only use the content as authorised by the creator. For example, if you gain permission to use the content in a thesis, you can't later decide to use the content in a journal article or YouTube video. In such circumstances, you will need to recontact the creator to gain additional authorisations.

What if I haven't received permission?

It may be that a copyright owner is unresponsive or untraceable. Under such circumstances, it is advisable to only use legally allowable content. Choosing to use content without permission involves risk, and inclusion of a "good faith notice" will not mitigate that risk should the copyright owner decide to take you to court. However, it might make the copyright owner more inclined to accept a retraction, settlement or payment of a fee.