1-4 Get Permission to Use the Work of Others

An author’s ideas that he or she speaks or writes are his or her intellectual property. The value of that intellectual property is dependent on his or her ability to take those ideas and turn them into products from which others can benefit.

In a standard author/publisher contract, the author warrants (promises) that he or she is using all original material or has permission for anything not original. If the author violates that clause, the author may be liable to pay legal fees to defend the case and to pay the publisher for books that have to be destroyed and lost profits.

The author must determine who owns the work and then get written permission to use it:

  • for that specific book in all media,
  • in all languages and for the duration of the copyright.

Another primary source of information is interviewing experts on your subject or people dealing with the subject firsthand. For instance, if the author is writing a book on raising children, he/she might interview pediatricians and child psychologists, as well as talk to parents on their real-life practical solutions to challenging experiences.

Written permission of the interviewees must be obtained in order to refer to them by name in the book and/or quote them directly.

Copyright owners are not required to allow someone else to use their words; they can say “no” outright, they can limit the permission, and they can charge for the permission. Important to Note: In most cases, the author (and not the publisher) will pay for any permissions that must be purchased.

For interviews (something spoken), it is best to get permission before the interview is done, so there is no question about this.

For copyrighted works (this means virtually anything in writing), the first challenge is to determine who the owner of the copyright is. The second challenge is to get them, or their representatives to sign the rights to use the work to the author.

When is Permission Required?

Go through the manuscript with a highlighter pen and highlight all quotes, song lyrics, poetry, charts, images, checklists, tables and statistics that give credit to someone or some organization. Ask the author to verify which of these he or she would like you to work on getting permission. It may be that the author should have the manuscript reviewed by a permissions expert or by an intellectual property attorney to determine that.

Organizing the Permissions Log

When you have the author’s concurrence, list all of the quotes, statistics, etc. for which you will be working to obtain permission on a spreadsheet, by chapter, and referring to the page number where that information can be located in the manuscript.

Use the log to document:
1. Items for which permission is needed
2. Owner of info and contact info for owner
3. When the permissions form was created and sent
4. Follow up (every week to 10 days if possible and handle concerns.

Finding the Information Owner

If the primary source of the material is a book or magazine, there should be a place to write for permission on the copyright page of the book or on the publisher’s web site. If you don’t know the primary source of the material, try typing the stat or the entire quote or piece of it in a Google search. You may find many references to it, but you are looking for the reference that sites an original source.

If you can’t find it on your own, take the statistic or quote to a reference librarian who may be able to help you find the original source. If after trying these things you still can’t find the source or the owner of the material, then the author will need to determine whether to hire a researcher to track it down or not to use the material in the book.

Developing the Permissions Request Letters

When you know who the owner of the material is, you will be ready to send that person or organization a letter requesting the permission. Generally there is a cover letter and then a form with legal language, depending on the type of intellectual property you wish to use.

If your author is working with a traditional publisher, the publisher may want you to use forms they have developed. The publisher will send its specific permissions forms and requirements along with its contract when it makes an offer for a book.

If your author is self publishing, he or she must still get permission to use the same intellectual property and we have samples of forms you can use. To be sure these are right for the author and the book, your author should confirm their use with an intellectual property attorney.

There are separate forms (downloadable at the bottom of this page) that apply:
• To request permission for a quote you heard someone give as part of a speech
• To request permission for the use of a case study the author has developed using the person or organization as source material
• To request permission for a testimonial or to use to reprint a review
• To request permission to use any material from an interview the author has done with the subject

Either attached to this request or after you get a “yes” response, you will need to send the permissions form with all the appropriate legal language that describes the extent and length of the permission. A faxed response is fine – an original signature is not needed.

The exact quote you want to use in the context of at least a paragraph should be duplicated in the permissions request form.

Keeping Track of Responses

Keep track of your follow up efforts and any responses on your log or spreadsheet. You can expect to get any of these responses:
• Yes, with a signature and date faxed back
• Yes, but…for limited rights, or only if the author pays a fee
• No
• No response at all after months of follow up

It will be up to the author to determine what to do with any of the last three responses. It is good for the author to consider a back up plan in case this is what he or she gets.

Also keep a separate and secure file of the actual permissions responses that come back to you. The author is required to keep these for the life of the copyright.

When the book goes to the printer, finish all the final entries to the log, and send the log, plus hard copies of permissions received to the author in a file marked “Permissions.” Mark the log FINAL in the “updated” spot.

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Next Steps

Download material for your notebook

Button - how to guide

Button - 3 to a page slides

Download an Excel version of the Permissions Log to use with authors

Download a PDF version of a permissions form to use for quote or statistic from a publication

Download a PDF version of a permissions for to use for an image

Download a PDF version of a permissions form to use for interviews

Download a PDF version of a permissions form to use for endorsements (testimonials and reviews)

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