You don't have to be in the formal business of publishing to one day find yourself in a situation where you wish to reprint someone else's written work. It might be for your own personal reasons, such as sharing an inspirational poem with friends and family on your social media accounts, or for professional purposes, such as when you need to reprint an excerpt from an article or book to support your own written work.
Either way, you will need express permission from the owner before you reproduce any portion of their work for your own purposes. If the work is not reprinted with permission, you could face legal action specific to copyright infringement.
Getting Permission to Reprint Published Material
When someone creates a literary work, whether it is an article, book, essay, poem, or other material, it is automatically protected by copyright. This means that only the owner of the work may use, reproduce, repurpose, distribute, perform, or sell the work. If someone else uses the work without permission, even a small part, the owner can sue for copyright infringement.
The first step to securing permission to use someone else's work is to locate the owner. Finding the owner can be easy when you already have the book, article, or poem right in front of you. You can check either the author's name or the copyright notice, which you can find at the front of the book or magazine.
If the work you wish to use is something more obscure, you can search the U.S. Copyright Card Catalog. Once you have identified and located the copyright owner, you need to request written permission to use their work. You can use a form, such as the request for permission to reprint published material form. In this document, you should include specifics such as:
- Identifying details about the work, such as the title, book name, URL, etc.
- Your purpose for using the work, including specifics such as whether permission is sought for personal use, scholarly use, commercial use, commentary, etc.
- Specifics about how you intend to use the work, including things like the time frame, location, and how many times you will use the work.
Only after you receive written permission back from the owner should you reproduce the work. Make sure to keep a record of the permission you were granted ready to produce, if needed.
Once you get permission from the copyright owner to use their work, you have a license. Note that, in most cases, you will be granted a nonexclusive copyright license. This means you have the right to use the portion of the work you requested permission to reprint, but you have no other rights to the work. Those exclusive rights remain with the copyright owner.
Using Copyrighted Material Without Permission
Sometimes you don't have to request permission to use published material. If you are only using a small excerpt and your purpose is to criticize, comment, report news, teach, provide scholarship, or research, then an exception, known as fair use, protects your right to use the copyrighted work without permission and without fear of being accused of copyright infringement. If the work is in the pubic domain—a work that is not protected by copyright—then you don't need permission to use it.
If you use someone else's work and it does not fall under the fair use exception or within the public domain, you could face severe penalties and fines of up to $150,000 for each work you use without permission. Sometimes, you could face jail time.
If you need to reprint someone else's written work, you need their permission: No work is too small to be excluded from this requirement. The legal consequences far outweigh the minor inconvenience of seeking permission.