Obtaining copyright clearances

Before you publish your work, you will need to obtain permission to reproduce any third party material that you have quoted in your work. If you are publishing your work with a commercial publisher, you will usually be required to sign an agreement or contract.

If you wish to reproduce copyright material owned by another author in your publication, you will be required to:

  • obtain the written permission of the copyright owners before your work is printed – these are often called copyright clearances.
  • comply with the moral right of attribution provisions in the Copyright Act and attribute the author of the work
  • comply with the moral right of integrity provisions in the Copyright Act
  • identify the different types of copyright that may exist in a work
  • establish the copyright owners for each of the different types of copyright. Remember, some copyright owners may have assigned or licensed their copyright to another individual, organisation or company

Initial contact points for obtaining permission for some of the most frequently requested types of works, are set out below:

 Type of work
Initial contact point for obtaining permission
Published book or periodical article
Publisher
Unpublished works
Author
Artistic works including photographs Creator
Films, videos & TV programs
Production company
Music - scores, notated music
Publisher
Recorded music, CDs Record company

For more detailed information on locating copyright owners, see the Australian Copyright Council information sheet Owners of copyright: how to find, G051.

For information on establishing ownership of copyright, see the section Who owns copyright?


Hints on obtaining copyright clearances

Generally, you don’t need to obtain permission if you paraphrase or summarise someone else’s work, unless you follow the structure of the original work closely. However, you will still need to acknowledge the source of the work.

If your work is being published in Australia:

  • under Australian copyright law there isn’t a minimum number of words you can use in a publication before obtaining the copyright owner’s permission
  • there have been a number of court cases in this area and the legal advice is to play it safe and obtain permission
  • for more information see the Australian Copyright Council’s Information Sheet Quotes and extracts: copyright obligations


If your work is to be published by an international publisher:

  • the copyright legislation in the country of publication will determine the permission you have to obtain
  • some UK and US publishers allow you to quote a minimum number of words from a publication (often between 400-500 words) before they require you to obtain permission
  • most publishers require you to obtain permission to use photographs, images, diagrams or charts from copyright works
  • be guided by your publisher: visit their website or ask your editor for advice


When seeking permission from a copyright owner to use their copyright material you should:

  • put your request in writing - see these Sample letters
  • check to see if the organisation has a website with an online permission form
  • state what amount of their work you wish to use
  • state the exact purpose for which you will use the work
  • describe the new work you are creating and how it will be distributed
  • indicate if you would like to alter their work in any way
  • state whether you will benefit commercially from using their work
  • indicate the size of the intended audience
  • state the other copyrights you have identified in the copyright material, who you have identified as their copyright owner and whether you have obtained their permission
  • be aware that the copyright owner has the right to say “no” and you must comply with this, because the work is their property
  • be aware that the copyright owner may charge you a fee
  • be aware that the copyright owner may issue you with a licence agreement that they require you to sign
  • be aware that it may take months for the permission to be granted, so allow plenty of time


Remember:

  • if you do not receive a reply from the copyright owner you may not use their material
  • any permissions you receive are effectively licences and should be filed securely.