Brown University Copyright and Fair Use



Brown University

Rules and Permission for Textual Materials
Printed textual materials such as books and periodicals have a much longer history than audio-visual or digital materials, and in some ways the rules governing their use are more straightforward. Texts published before 1923 are considered to be in the public domain, and may be copied, quoted, re-edited, transcribed, and reused in other contexts freely. For texts which are still under copyright, you may copy or quote from such materials within the bounds of fair use.
If you wish to use copyrighted texts in a manner that goes beyond fair use, you must gain permission from the copyright holder, in writing. It's important to note that the author is not always the copyright holder. Copyright may have been assigned to the publisher, or to the author's employer, or to the author's estate (if the author is dead), or to someone else entirely. There may be multiple rights holders, particularly in the case of anthologies and textbooks  A few more important points to note:

  • The copyright owner may charge a fee.
  • Permission is usually given for a specific one-time use, unless you request more extensive permission.
  • The owner may refuse your request, or may not even reply
  • For some materials, e.g. anthologies and textbooks, multiple permissions may be necessary.

A list of uses that clearly require permission
Here is a list of uses that will almost always require you to get permission.

  1. Photocopied Material
    • repetitive copying
    • consumable works (workbooks, exercises, etc.)
    • creation of anthologies
  2. Material to be published online (outside of MyCourses and other password or IP protected resources)
    • images
    • texts
    • music
    • multimedia works
  3. Intent to distribute copies outside educational fair use
    • CDs of a Brown a cappella group performance
    • copying an entire out-of-print book
  4. Coursepacks which are sold to students for use in Brown courses

How to get permission
Getting permission isn't necessarily difficult, and in fact it is becoming easier as the issue of intellectual property gains significance. In many cases your request can be handled by a central clearing house that can get you permission quickly and cheaply. Here are some pointers and places to go for help:

  • Your request and the resulting permission must be in writing. You may make the request via email as long as you receive printed permission (by letter or fax).
  • The Copyright Clearance Center has been set-up to easily and quickly provide a license for most academic uses and handles permissions for most U.S. academic publishers.
  • Locating the copyright owner is often the most difficult part of the process. There are now a number of places to look. The US Copyright Office also has a list of resources to help you.
  • The form of your request can make a difference in the speed and nature of the response. Using a standard form makes it easier for the rights-holder to understand your request, and also makes it less likely that you'll overlook some important point. The University of Texas has developed a standard permission letter which we reproduce here by their kind permission.
  • If the rights-holder does not respond within a reasonable interval, or if you can't locate the rights-holder at all, you may be able to claim fair use, as long as you have made a reasonable effort to locate the rights-holder. You should document your efforts carefully and keep copies of your request letters.