How to Get Written Copyright Permission to Use a Picture

••• Jason Reed/Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

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You must secure permission to reproduce images under copyright. The copyright holder may be an individual photographer, an agency that offers the use of images, a museum or library that has the rights to a collection, or a publisher that has used the image in a book, magazine, or web site. The procedure is usually straightforward, although use and reproduction fees may also apply.

Contact the copyright holder. For an image already published, you can usually identify the person or organization by examining the text accompanying the image for a copyright statement. If you can't find a copyright statement, contact the publisher or website that reproduced the image.

Read More: What Are the Copyright Laws for Images?

Request a permission form from the copyright holder. Larger publishers, agencies and organizations have rights departments that handle reproduction requests. An individual photographer will have a simple permission request form; if not, you must secure a written permission in the form of a signed letter or statement. You can't reproduce a copyrighted image with a verbal permission; it has to be in writing.

Complete the permission form. You will have to note how and why you wish to use a picture. This includes the size of the reproduced image, the format, and the venue in which the picture will be used. Permission fees often vary by how the image is used; commercial use is often more expensive than use for charities, educational organizations, or non-profits. If you need a copy of the picture, for example, a print to be scanned for publication, you will also have to pay a reproduction fee.

Submit the permission and reproduction requests, along with the fees, to the copyright holder. Use certified mail, or a tracking number, to ensure your permission request has reached the owner. Don't use the picture until the owner has returned a written permission, which will specify the use and format parameters. Use fees range from about $10 for limited-run or free/non-profit publications up to several thousand dollars for a multimedia ad campaign.

Provide a copy of the publication, or a URL link for a web page, to the owner after hardcopy or online publication.

Warnings

  • Don't publish a photograph that features an individual person for commercial purposes without a signed model release. The rights holder should furnish this.

Tips

  • Giving credit to the photographer or source does not constitute a grant of permission to use the picture. You must have it in writing.

    Clip art or public domain images still carry restrictions. If you are using such an image, make sure to read and understand the terms and conditions.

    You are entitled to limited free use if your work is for private or scholarly use. Contact the rights holder if you are unsure.

References

Resources

About the Author

Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.

Photo Credits

  • Jason Reed/Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images