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Intellectual Property: Copyright, Fair Use, Permissions, and Citations

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If you wish to use material that is not in the public domain, or you have determined that your use of a work is not covered by fair use, you will need to secure permission from the rights holder. A rights holder could be an individual author or artist, a corporation, or a cultural institution like a museum, gallery, archive or library. 

The following are good steps to take when trying to secure permission:


  1. Identify the copyright holder. If you have found material on the open web it is often difficult to identify the true copyright holder. Likewise, sites like Flickr or Google Image Search, which bring together images from a variety of sources, may not provide true or up-to-date information about who holds the copyright of a particular image. It is best to seek out images from reputable image databases like Artstor or Alexander Street Press, or get them directly from the person or institution that holds the copyright.
  2. Read their “terms of use” page. Institutions often post their “terms of use” or “rights and reproductions” information on their website to give users an understanding of the their requirements when applying for permission to use their copyrighted material.
  3. Write a Permissions and Licensing Request Letter. A good letter will include details about exactly what you intend to use and how your use of the original work will be conveyed. The letter should include:
    • Who you are and your affiliation with Barnard College
    • What work specifically you intend to use (use exact file names, object numbers, or other unique identifiers)
    • How you intend to use the work. For commercial purposes or academic? Will you be using the entire work, or a portion? How will the work will be distributed (online, in print, in a course packet, in a single presentation)?
    • When will the work be used? For how long?
    • Why: Explain why you are contacting the person in question so they know that you believe them to be the rights holder.

  4. Keep a Record. Whether your permissions request is approved, ignored or denied, it is important to keep a record of your requests and the rights holder's responses. If the request is approved you may need to refer back to their response to determine if a potential new use is covered by the existing agreement.  Factors that limit use could be the duration of the use, format, size of the audience, as well for the preferred citation when crediting the rights holder.