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Copyright Center

If you have a question about copyright at any level or would like to make an appointment, please email

Common questions:

  • How do I make sure people don't use my works without permission?
  • What can I do if someone uses my work without permission?
  • What is an appropriate copyright notice for my works?
  • Can I use X in my class?
  • How do I get copyright clearance/permission for a work?
  • Can I use a work repeatedly in the same class year after year?
  • If I bought a work, does that mean I can do whatever I want with it?
  • What's different about copyright in online classes?
  • Can my students perform a copyrighted work in class? Can it be filmed and shown outside of class?
  • What films or videos can I show in class? What if it's an online class?

The Minnesota State System Procedure 3.27.1 Copyright Clearance states that it is the responsibility of employees and students to gain copyright clearance for materials before use. For the most part, uses of copyrighted material in a face-to-face educational setting are useable without obtaining copyright clearance through fair use. Materials to be used in online courses must use the TEACH Act Checklist.

See instructions on obtaining permission from the U.S. Copyright Office in Circular 16A - Obtaining Permission.

Obtaining Permission

Always allow plenty of time before the work is needed to allow for processing time.

Step 1: Determine if permission is needed
You need to seek permission if:

  • The work is protected by copyright, and
  • The use does not fall under copyright exemptions, see Fair Use and the TEACH Act 

NOTE: Most published and unpublished works created after 1925 have some level of copyright attached to them. It is always best to make sure that works created before 1925 are actually in the public domain. Never assume. List of works published in 1925 entered the public domain in 2021. Note that they must be an authorized publication to have fallen into the public domain. See Library Law for more information.

See Circular 22 - How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work for some options for determining the copyright status of a work.

If you have determined that your use does not fall under copyright excemptions and that it is not in the public domain, move to step 2.

Step 2: Identify the copyright holder or agent

For many works, the author is not the copyright holder. Many times, the publisher holds all or some of the rights, such as the right to distribute. Some publishers have online copyright permission pages, some require official contact.

If the publisher is not the copyright holder, a representative can often direct you to the appropriate person.

It is possible that permission may be required from more than one source. For example, photos in an article may be owned by the photographer rather than the article's author.

Once you have identified the copyright holder or agent, move to step 3.

Step 3: Send a request for permission to use the work

You can send either a print letter or an email, depending on who you are contacting and their options. When sending a request letter, include:

  • detailed identification of the material to be used (including but not limited to title, author, page numbers, etc.)
  • the exact nature of the use (including how many copies, how distribution will be done, and whether the resulting material will be sold)

If the copyright holder responds with an affirmative response, make sure to document and save all records of permission.

If the copyright holder cannot be located, does not respond, or if you are unwilling to pay a licensing fee, consider using alternative materials or limiting the amount of the work used to qualify for fair use.



Getting Permissions, Step by Step