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10 Copyright Permissions


- Definition and duration of copyright

- What materials need copyright permission?

- Fair dealing

- STM Publishers’ Guidelines

- Crown copyright material

- Case studies/trademarks

- Whom to approach

- How to apply

- Possible outcomes

- Keeping track of progress

- Acknowledgements

This section of the guide deals with the most common legal concern in academic works—copyright permissions. Your Contract will state whether you or OUP are responsible for obtaining permission to re-use copyright material. If (as is usually the case) you are to clear permissions, start early: failure to obtain permission to use copyright material may significantly affect the content of your title, as well as the publication schedule.

Definition and duration of copyright

Copyright seeks to protect the form of expression of ideas. Works that are protected under UK copyright law include original literary, dramatic, musical, or artistic works and sound recordings, films, and broadcasts. No formalities, such as registration, need to be observed in the UK for a work to receive copyright protection; protection automatically applies to qualifying works that have been recorded in any form, whether published or unpublished. Current UK copyright law is set out in the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Copyright allows creators, who have usually invested creative skill, significant labour, and/or investment into their work, to control the use of their work in a number of ways. For example, they have the exclusive right to copy the work, to issue copies of the work to the public, and to perform, show, or play the work in public. To do any of these things without securing the necessary permission can constitute copyright infringement.

Copyright lasts for a set period, most often for seventy years after the end of the year in which the creator of the copyright material died. The definition and duration of copyright may be different in other countries. Also be aware that copyright in pictures and other types of copyright work differs from copyright in written materials. In some cases there may be multiple copyright holders (for example, an artist’s estate as well as the image supplier). OUP have preferred image suppliers where competitive rates have been negotiated, and a list of free/low-cost sources is also available if required. Please contact your OUP Editor for more information on image suppliers and for detailed guidance on sourcing images if your title has a lot of image requirements.

Tip! Seek advice from your OUP Editor before assuming that material may be reproduced without permission, and always apply for permission in doubtful cases.

What materials need copyright permission?

Formal permission is needed to reproduce any material in copyright, unless the use made of the original is covered by ‘fair dealing’ being used for purposes of criticism, review, or the reporting of current events (see further below), or is covered under the STM Publishers’ Guidelines (see further below).

Permission will or may be needed to reproduce parts of the following kinds of work:

  • prose (material extracted from book/journal articles);
  • poetry;
  • drama;
  • music/song lyrics;
  • computer programs;
  • databases;
  • websites (including screen shots);
  • pictures, photographs, cartoons, maps, figures, tables;
  • multimedia content (CD-ROMs/DVDs/podcasts).
Please consult your OUP Editor to discuss what permission you will need to obtain for the content you wish to reproduce.

Tip! If information or data is made available on a website, normal copyright rules still apply. However, you will not need permission to include web links in your title.

Although the amount of material used is relevant, copyright is infringed if a ‘substantial’ part of the work is used, and this is a qualitative rather than a quantitative measure, of which there is no legal definition. If in doubt always approach the copyright holder.

As a guide, you should always seek permission for:

  • Substantial sections of text for the purpose of criticism, review, or reporting current events.
  • Any extract of text that is NOT for the purpose of criticism, review, or reporting current events (for example, a short epigraph) or that forms the main argument of the work being quoted.
  • Extracts from unpublished work.
  • Any extract from a newspaper/journal/magazine.
  • Pictures (paintings, drawings, charts, engravings, photographs, cartoons, and so on).
  • Figures and maps.
  • Tables.
  • Trademarks (brand images, advertisements, logos).
  • Any extract from poetry/song lyrics, even if you think ‘fair dealing’ may apply. Even for a very short extract there may be a qualitative value attached to the usage and it is therefore always safest to seek permission.

Note that even if the subject of a photograph is out of copyright (for example, a work of art by a long-dead artist) the photograph itself is subject to copyright control. Museums, libraries, photographers, and agencies usually retain the copyright in the photographs that they supply.

Tip! Song lyrics can be very costly to reproduce and can take a considerable time to clear. You will also need to clear permission from both the publisher of the lyrics (not to be confused with the record label) and the artist.

Fair dealing

Under ‘fair dealing’ there are specific instances in which copyright material may be used without seeking formal permission from the copyright holder/publisher. UK law permits fair dealing with certain types of copyright material for the purposes of research (non-commercial) and private study, criticism, or review, or the reporting of current events. Such use will not infringe any copyright in the material provided that it is accompanied by a sufficient acknowledgement. The use must be ‘fair’. What constitutes fair dealing or fair use requires a case-by-case analysis, and needs to be determined in a fair-minded and honest manner. To help assess whether material falls within the fair dealing guidelines, you should consider the following:

  • The extent to which the use competes with exploitation of the copyright work by the owner. For example, would it be seen as an acceptable substitute to the buying public?
  • Is the work unpublished? You cannot rely on fair dealing for the purpose of criticism or review if the material is unpublished.
  • How much of the original work are you using and the significance or importance of those extracts. There are no word-number rules that can be safely applied. As with the assessment of substantial use, whether or not such use is fair will depend on the situation (including, but not limited to, the length of the material) from which the material is taken as well as the significance or importance of the material concerned.
  • Is the material truly being used in the way claimed? For example, is it really being critiqued or reviewed or simply reproduced?
  • What is the purpose of the use? Was the use really necessary to make the point in question or could less have been used?

Tip! Be aware of the difference between using content inside the book and on the cover. For example, if a quote is being used on the cover it won’t be covered under fair dealing as it is not being used for criticism or review, and will therefore always require permission.

STM (Science, Technical, and Medical) Publishers’ Guidelines

In addition to fair dealing above, it may not be necessary to clear permission for material covered under the STM Publishers’ Guidelines. A number of STM publishers, of which OUP is one, have signed an agreement whereby material can be reproduced, up to a certain limit, free of charge. Some signatories have opted to receive express permissions for material that is to be reproduced, meaning that permission still needs to be requested, but that it should be a quick process to secure this and a fee will not usually be payable. Some signatories have opted out of receiving express permissions, and in these instances you may simply use the material you require without seeking permission, up to the limits outlined below.

Quantity limits for gratis permissions

Permission is, or in the case of an express permission requirement should be, granted free of charge, with respect to a particular journal article or book being prepared for publication, to:

  • use up to three figures (including tables) from a journal article or book chapter, but:
    • not more than five figures from a whole book or journal issue/edition;
    • not more than six figures from an annual journal volume; and
    • not more than three figures from works published by a single publisher for an article, and not more than three figures from works published by a single publisher for a book chapter (and in total not more than thirty figures from a single publisher for re-publication in a book, including a multi-volume book, with different authors per chapter)
  • use single text extracts of less than 400 words from a journal article or book chapter, but
    • not more than a total of 800 words from a whole book or journal issue/edition


Publishers can always seek express permission to go beyond such limits although in such instances the permission grant may require permission fees. The gratis amounts however should always be honoured, even if the permission requests extend beyond the gratis amount limitations.

We advise checking the STM Publishers website: for the latest guidelines and list of signatories if you are planning to use any material that falls within these guidelines.

Crown copyright material

In Britain permission may be needed to quote from or use materials in which the Crown holds copyright.

Crown and Parliamentary copyright material includes:

  • Bills and#38; Acts of Parliament, statutory instruments, Statutory Rules and Orders, press releases of Crown bodies;
  • Hansard reports, parliamentary reports;
  • all works created by an officer or servant of the Crown in the course of his or her duties.

However, much of this information can be used freely under the Open Government Licence as long as the appropriate attribution is used in order to acknowledge the source of the material. For details of what is covered under the Open Government Licence, the attributions to be used, and general information relating to Crown copyright and public sector information, visit the National Archives website at

By contrast with Britain, in the USA materials that the government owns are in the public domain and may be freely used without permission, although the source must still be cited in full and acknowledgement made.

Case studies/trademarks

Seek permission from any company or organization on which you have based a case study or examples; they will need to consent to this use. References to a company’s products, references to trademarks, and the reproduction of logos also need the permission of the companies concerned.

Whom to approach

Copyright usually resides in the creator of the work—the author, artist, or other originator. However, when a work is published, the creator usually licenses the copyright to the publisher and loses control over it while the licence is in force. It is very important to recognize the implications of this: it means that the agreement of the author to re-use material does not constitute copyright permission. To seek permission to reproduce a published work, you must approach the rights holder, which is usually the publisher. Also note that if the work was made in the course of employment, copyright is owned by the employer unless a contract specifies otherwise.

Authors are often under a misapprehension about re-use of their own material, especially images and tables. Even though you may have originated text, images, or tables you may not re-use them without seeking permission from the publisher to whom the copyright has been licensed.

Note that if you wish to reproduce material from an OUP publication you still need to clear permission through our rights department. Please consult your OUP Editor who will provide you with the necessary form.

The holder of copyright in an image or figure may be unrelated to that of the title, article, or other source it appears in. Be careful to ensure you establish who is the original copyright holder by checking the acknowledgements line (if the image/figure appears in a title there should usually be an acknowledgements page detailing the original copyright holder).

The following resources are available to help with tracing copyright holders:

  • COPAC (University Research Library Catalogue:, while unable to give detailed rights information, will help to establish who was the first publisher of a title.
  • WATCH (Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Owners:, gives contact details of copyright holders for major authors.
  • DACS (Designers and Artists Copyright Society: is the UK copyright licensing and collecting society for visual creators; it represents 36,000 artists who are identified on its website.
  • The Copyright Clearance Centre is often the easiest way for authors to clear permissions to reproduce any figures, tables, or texts that have been previously published. It is also a good resource or finding out about whether you can reproduce your own work without permission.
  • Every publishers will have a reuse and permissions page on their website stating their reuse policy.

If copyright holders are untraceable you cannot presume that you may proceed with using the material. Discuss the best way to proceed with your OUP Editor.

How to apply

Write to the copyright holder using the permissions request form. Your OUP Editor will be able to supply you with the relevant form. It is essential to:

  • Identify exactly the material you wish to reproduce, and indicate any adaptation or amendment you plan to apply to it.
  • Give full details of the work in which you wish to reproduce it.
  • Name the rights you wish to secure (NB all permissions requests should ask for both print and electronic world rights).

Tip! No permission is usable unless it covers all the rights required, so check the rights that should be secured with your OUP Editor before approaching copyright holders.

Always include with your letter a photocopy of the image or text extracts for which you are seeking permission and locate them by citing the page reference on which they appear in the work.

  • For text extracts, give the word count of the extract you would like to reproduce.
  • For figures, maps, and tables, state clearly whether you intend to reproduce the original exactly, in part, or in adapted form (for example, redrawn).
  • For images, give the image reference number (where available). You will also need to state if you are intending to re-use the image on the cover or inside the title.
  • For lyrics/poetry, you should send the lyrics/poetry extract with the page either side of the material you wish to reproduce.

Possible outcomes

On receipt of your letter the copyright holder may:

  • fail to reply;
  • refer you to the current holder of the rights;
  • grant permission free of charge;
  • grant permission on the payment of a fee and/or receipt of a gratis copy of the title;
  • grant limited rights;
  • refuse permission.

If you do not receive a reply to your letter you cannot presume that you may proceed with using the material. You should ensure you have contacted them by email or letter at least three times (the last time by registered mail) and then write a fourth letter. It is very important to keep a record of all attempts made to gain permission. If you still do not receive a response discuss the best way to proceed with your OUP Editor.

If permission is refused you may wish to appeal against the decision by writing again to the copyright holder. However, if your application is ultimately unsuccessful you have no alternative but to remove the material from your manuscript.

If limited rights are granted, you should discuss how to proceed with your OUP Editor. Permissions granted are only usable if they cover all the rights needed for your title. It may be necessary to go back to the copyright holder to request the rights that have been withheld or, if the necessary rights cannot be obtained, to remove the material or replace it with an alternative source.

If a fee is demanded, note the amount and (particularly) the date on which payment is required (some permissions fees are paid on publication, some copyright holders require immediate payment). Two fees may be charged for illustrative material—one for supplying the original (which you should pay on receipt of the print, transparency, or image file) and one for permission to reproduce. Your Contract will outline whether you are responsible for paying the fees directly; if this is the case it is important to pay fees promptly.

Where fees are prohibitively high it may be possible to negotiate with the copyright holder to reduce the fee; or if an agreement cannot be reached, material may need to be removed or replaced with an alternative source. There may have been a budget set for permissions costs; in these cases you should keep in contact with your OUP Editor about permissions fees to ensure the overall permissions budget is not exceeded.

It is important to note that some copyright holders regard the granting of permission as a binding contract to pay on the part of the person requesting permission, so that even if you later decide not to use the material concerned the fee will still be payable.

Some copyright holders may request a complementary copy of the title on publication. Keep a list of such requests and pass it to your OUP Editor when you submit your manuscript. OUP will arrange for these requests to be dealt with, though offprints may be sent in place of a copy of the title.

Some copyright holders stipulate that a link be included to their website. Keep a list of such requirements and pass it to your OUP Editor when you submit your manuscript.

Keeping track of progress

Clearing copyright permissions is often a lengthy and involved process. Please send a permissions letter as soon as you have decided to include copyright material in your title. We cannot accept for publication any work containing materials from other sources that have not been cleared for use; the production of your title will be delayed if permissions have not been granted.

As you work on gaining permissions you should:

  • Maintain a log that records all aspects of your application to the copyright holder and precise details of the rights granted. Your OUP Editor can send a template for you to use to log these details.
  • Keep a file of correspondence to and from copyright holders.
  • Record fees due and paid.
  • Record requests for free copies.
  • Keep a list of the copyright lines or credits requested by copyright holders.
  • Highlight any limitation on rights granted on individual permissions with your OUP Editor (for example, if electronic rights are refused, or are time-limited, this must be discussed with your OUP Editor at the earliest opportunity as this will impact on any online plans for your title and the material in question may need to be removed or replaced).

Submit with your finished manuscript:

  • the permissions log;
  • a list of requests for free copies or other conditions set by copyright holders;
  • the list of credits;
  • a copy of all correspondence and permissions clearance forms (where permissions are granted through online clearance facilities—such as the Copyright Clearance Centre—don't forget to print and save these).

Tip! Clearing permissions often takes longer than anticipated. Begin the process as soon as you know what copyright material you wish to include in your manuscript.


Regardless of the need to obtain permission for material to be reproduced, any quoted or reproduced matter must be provided with a source, naming the creator of the work, its title, and other information that will allow the reader to trace the work and verify the quotation. Notes and author–date references, together with the list of bibliographical citations, perform this function for most types of work (see Reference Styles).  

Copyright acknowledgements should appear next to the item reproduced.

Tip! Copyright holders often make the position and wording of the acknowledgement a condition of granting permission, so please note their requirements carefully.