Who owns the copyright?

All creative work is protected under current copyright law—whether it has been registered or not—for a specific period of time.  The Government Copyright page http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.html offers clear definitions. DIRC: Digital Image Rights Computator, http://vraweb.org/resources/ipr/dirc/ is intended to assist the user in assessing the intellectual property status of a specific image documenting a work of art, a designed object, or a portion of the built environment."

If you feel that your use of someone else’s work might go beyond Fair Use Guidelines, The Teach Act or The Digital Millennium Act, and the work is not yet in the public domain, you must seek permission for "the right to copy."  (For example, if you would like to photocopy more that 10% of a book, or use more than 5 photographs from one photographer in a multimedia presentation, you will need to get specific permission.) At times, this can be as easy as a phone call and follow-up note. 

If you know, or can easily track down the creator of the work, and you are certain that the creator is indeed the copyright holder, feel free to make direct, informal contact.  These types of correspondences are often appreciated and many times bring favorable results.  Follow up with a written record of the conversation.

If you would like to use original material from a Web site, you can ask the site's Web master or other contact person for permission.

If a publisher owns the copyright for the work that you are seeking permission to use, look for the publisher’s Web site.  Many times publishers’ Web pages have sections on permissions and/or provide forms.  In addition to using a good search engine, you could try Publisher’s Catalog http://www.lights.com/publisher/, which maintains a database, and is a useful place to find publishers’ contact information. 

If you are unsure who owns the copyright, or need more infomation The Library of Congress Online Catalog http://catalog.loc.gov/cgibin/Pwebrecon.cgi?DB=local&PAGE=First can help, as can “Search Copyright Records: Registrations and Documents” http://www.copyright.gov/records/ ,and “How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work” http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ22.html#caution. DIRC. can help with images.

Of course, you can always ask a librarian.

Sample Letter

The following is a sample letter to a copyright holder.  It is prudent to obtain written permission with a signature, and to confirm phone conversations.  A detailed e-mail response from the copyright holder’s e-mail address will usually suffice.

Sample letter .pdf or sample letter .doc

For assistance

Library Reference Desk reference@wesleyan.edu, ext. 3873

For more information

United States Copyright Office http://www.copyright.gov/
The Teach Act Toolkit: NCSU Libraries http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/scc/legislative/teachkit/
Copyright on Campus http://www.copyrightoncampus.com/
Education World http://www.education-world.com/a_curr/curr280e.shtml
Internet Archive http://www.archive.org/texts/bookmobile.php#thebookmobile
Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/
Internet Public Library: Books http://www.ipl.org/div/books/
CCC's Using Course Management Systems http://www.copyright.com/media/pdfs/Using-Course-Management-Systems.pd
Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/
Creative Commons search http://search.creativecommons.org/
Web Law FAQ http://www.patents.com/weblaw.htm
Chilling Effects http://www.chillingeffects.org/
Russell, C. (2004) Complete Copyright, An Everyday Guide for Librarians. American Library Association.
Stim, R. (2004) Getting permission, how to license & clear copyrighted materials online & off. Berkeley, Nolo
Butler, R. P. (2004). Copyright for teachers and librarians. New York, Neal-Schuman Publishers.
Crews, K. D. (2000). Copyright essentials for librarians and educators. Chicago, IL, American Library Association.
Vaidhyanathan, S. (2001). Copyrights and copywrongs: the rise of intellectual property and how it threatens creativity. New York, New York University Press.