Even if a piece of writing has a copyright, you can still use it in certain instances. In general, you cannot plagiarize a copyrighted work or pretend that the copyright holder's words are your own. However, you can use a certain amount of a work if you credit the writer. Additionally, in some instances you can get permission to use the work from the copyright holder.
Review the laws of "fair use." Under fair use, you can reprint certain parts of a copyrighted work without getting permission from the author. For something to qualify as fair use, it must be used for non-commercial purposes. Additionally, you can incorporate only an excerpt, not the whole piece, and you must not affect the product's commercial viability. Fair use is commonly used by journalists, teachers and librarians, or in academic or research papers.
Acknowledge the source of your copyright when you are citing a copyrighted work under the fair-use application. In your citation, you should include the title of the work, the name of the author, the date of its publication, and the source.
Contact the copyright holder to request permission to reprint part or all of his or her work if your planned use is not limited to the fair-use standard. You can find the name of the copyright holder by searching the online database of the U.S. Copyright Office. Publishers might be able to help you reach the author.
Reprint the material with an acknowledgement that you received the author's permission. Your statement should read something like "this piece was reprinted with permission. All rights reserved." It should be included at the beginning or end of the piece.
When you request permission to use copyrighted material, get that permission in writing and keep it on file. That way, you will have evidence if you're ever questioned.
Permission to reprint a copyrighted work can come only from the author. The U.S. Copyright Office cannot grant this permission.
Amanda Erickson has been writing professionally since 2008. She has written for the "New York Times," "Christian Science Monitor" and "Chronicle of Higher Education." Before moving to New York, she worked as a political blogger at the "Washington Post." Erickson holds a Bachelor of Arts in urban history from Columbia University.