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Licensing and Permission: Overview

What is a license?

A license includes the terms for using a copyrighted work. Rights holders will ask for specifics about your intended use will grant or restrict the use within the license contract. Some sample questions asked when preparing a license include:  

  • Will you be reproducing the work? (e.g. text in a published book/article)
  • Is your intended use commercial or non-commercial?
  • Will the work be displayed or performed in public?
  • How long will you need to use the work?

Why do I need a license?

Copyright holders have six exclusive rights for their works: to reproduce, distribute, create derivative works, perform, display, and for sound recordings, to perform publicly live or via transmission. When you seek permission to use a copyrighted work, you are requesting permission for one or more of these rights. Some examples where you would need to get licensing include:

  • Setting a poetry text to your original music.
  • Writing a screenplay based on another author's novel.
  • Using a photograph in your fashion blog.
  • Screening a movie for a block party.

In each of these situations, you would need to locate the rights holders and request a license.

Steps to getting a license

  1. Locate the rights holder.
  2. Look for a Request License link or contact information and submit detailed information for your intended use.
  3. Read the fine print and understand it.
  4. Retain a written copy of the license for your records.

What is Public Performance?

Public performance is the broadcast or performance of a work in a public arena outside the classroom. This can include film screenings and musical, choreographic or dramatic performances. Public performances of copyrighted materials require licensing, whether or not an admission fee is charged.

Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) license works for public performance. PROs offer different types of licenses and fees depending on the event type, venue size, and profit/non-profit determination.

Finding Rights Holders

Rights holders may be individuals, large publishing houses, record labels, or rights management organizations. Websites, databases, streaming services, software, and e-books typically have existing licenses. For example, SMU Libraries databases include licensing terms permitting current students, faculty, and staff the use of content for personal research and educational purposes.

Sometimes the copyright holder's information may be found next to the copyright notice. If not, you may find the rights holder through the Copyright Office or through various subject-specific licensing agencies, linked from this guide.

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