Copyright & Permissions

What Is a Copyright?

U.S. copyright law grants creators property protection for "original works of authorship." When you decide to use material copyrighted by others in your manuscript, it is your responsibility to obtain permission to use that material.

A manuscript is protected by copyright from the time of its creation. Currently, the term of a copyright in works created after January 1, 1978, other than works made for hire, endures for 70 years following the death of the last surviving author. Copyright in a work made for hire endures for 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever is shorter. Works published prior to January 1, 1978, have an original term of 28 years and a 47-year renewal term, totaling 75 years. Public Law 105-298, enacted on October 27, 1998, further extended the renewal term of copyrights still subsisting on that date by an additional 20 years, providing for a renewal term of 67 years and a total term of protection of 95 years.

Permission Requirements

Permission is the authorization to make a copy of material protected by copyright. These guidelines apply to any works under copyright, whether that source material is old or recent, in print or electronic form, and whether you change from one format or media to another.

Material That Requires Permission
You should always secure permission for the following:

  • single quotations or several shorter quotes from a full-length book (more than 300 words in total)

  • single quotations from a newspaper, magazine, or journal (more than 50 words)

  • artwork, photographs, or forms, whether or not from a published source (sometimes more than one permission is required for a photograph, e.g., one from the photographer and one from the creator of the underlying work shown in the photograph)

  • charts, tables, graphs, and other representations where, inevitably, you are using the entire representation (the copyrighted features are complete in themselves and inherent in the whole work)

  • material that includes all or part of a poem or song lyric (even as little as one line), or the title of a song

  • computer representations, such as the depiction of results of research on computerized databases, the on-screen output of software, reproduction of web pages or programming, the capture of Internet or other online screen shots (note that if a web site invites or authorizes copying, or specifies that it is "open source," and there is no notice indicating that it contains material original to others and is therefore under copyright, then you do not need to get permission)

  • any third-party software to be distributed as an electronic component with your work

  • clearances, including permissions for the use of trademarks and releases from privacy claims

Material That Does Not Require Permission

Copyright does not prevent the use of facts or ideas, but does protect the author's expression. Even when material is protected by copyright, there are situations where permission to reproduce is not required.

Fair Use

Fair use is a legal concept that allows the use of copyrighted material without the need to obtain permission from the copyright owner for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research under the law. This is a fact-based determination on a case-by-case basis, with the following four factors to be considered:

  • the purpose and character of the use of material from a copyrighted work

  • the nature of the copied work

  • the amount and substantiality of the material used in relation to the entirety of the original copyrighted work

  • the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

If you are in doubt about whether your use of copyrighted material is a fair use, request permission. Even if your use constitutes fair use, and you do not have to obtain permission, you should give proper credit to the original source.


Generally, you can use material from any interview you conduct, including direct quotes, without securing a signed release if the circumstances and your notes clearly reveal that the source knew you were conducting an interview for possible publication and did not indicate intent to restrict your use of the material. Otherwise, ask the interviewee to sign a release.

Facts, Information, and Ideas

Generally, you may use facts you obtain from another work. However, note that copyright encompasses the format, organization, sequence, and style of presentation, as well as the sense or feeling of the original. When paraphrasing, even if you do not have to request permission, always give credit to the original source.

Public Domain

You do not need to obtain permission for materials that are in the "public domain." This includes all official U.S. government publications, as well as any materials for which the copyright has expired.