For Authors > Author's Guide > Permissions


What Material Needs Permission?

It is your responsibility to obtain permission to use copyrighted material, such as artwork (including figures and tables not of your own making), prose, poetry, lyrics, music, diaries, letters, and maps. Given the complexities of copyright law, we are limited here to mentioning just some of the most common issues you’re likely to confront.

You do not need permission to use something that is in the public domain. Works published in the US over 95 years ago are in the public domain, along with published works whose authors died over 70 years ago. Other works may also be in the public domain for failing to comply with formalities that were once required. The Cornell Copyright Term and the Public Domain chart provides more information for determining when works enter the public domain. It is important to remember that these rules are for the U.S. only; other countries have different copyright protections.

If the work you want to use is not in the public domain, you may still be able to use it if your use is a fair use. Fair use permits limited reproduction of copyrighted material for certain favored purposes, including “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research.”

The copyright code (17 U.S.C. § 107) establishes four factors to be used in determining whether a particular case qualifies as fair use:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

A great resource for more detailed information on copyright and fair use issues is the website maintained by the Stanford University libraries at If the work is not in the public domain and if your use of the work is not a fair use, you should consider asking for permission.

Whom Do I Contact for Permission?

When seeking permission for published work, it’s usually safest to start with the publisher. When in doubt, you can try searching the Library of Congress online database of copyright records (only for works published since 1978):

For music, you can also use the databases maintained by BMI ( and ASCAP (

For fine art and photographs, it’s generally best to start with the museum that owns the artwork or with the artist’s estate. Stock photographs are generally the property of their respective image bank.

For personal photographs, you’ll need permission from the photographer. If identifiable individuals appear in the photograph who are not public figures, you will need their permission as well.

For unpublished letters and diaries (and similar material), you will need permission from the author or the author’s estate.

If you are reprinting an essay of your own that has been previously published in a periodical (including academic journals), either in its current form or in an earlier version, you must obtain written permission from the publisher (most publishers will grant this material free of charge and without hesitation). If you retained copyright to the work, we ask for some verification of this, either a note from the publisher or a copy of your original agreement. Be aware that even if you did retain copyright, the periodical may request acknowledgment in the credit line.

What Type of Permission Do I Need?

We ask that you always make your permission request using our standard Permission Request Form (PDF). If the copyright holder insists on using its own form, you’ll need to make sure they’ve granted you all the rights you’ll need for your book. In most cases, that means “nonexclusive world rights in all languages and for all future editions, including electronic editions.” An email will suffice if it grants nonexclusive rights in print and ebook. If the copyright holder you’ve approached doesn’t hold all the rights you need, you may need to approach a second copyright holder. For instance, a publisher might be able to grant only North American rights, because another publisher holds the rights to the material for the rest of the territories of the world.

Please note: as we are committed to all formats of publishing, including digital, it is especially important to secure digital rights along with print. Please pay particular attention to this as you are requesting permissions.

Credits and Acknowledgments

Pay close attention to the language specified in your permissions agreements regarding credit to use the copyrighted material and use this exact language in your acknowledgments, notes, and/or captions. Check this language for accuracy when you receive your copyedited manuscript.

What If This Is an Edited Volume?

Editors of volumes by various contributors must collect and submit Contributor’s Agreements (PDF) signed by each contributor to the volume. This form verifies that the author is the sole copyright owner of his/her original contribution and transfers copyright to the Press; if the work has been previously published, we must have written permission from the publisher to reprint.

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