If you want to reuse a work but your use does not qualify for a copyright exception (e.g., Fair Use), you may need to request permission from its copyright holder. Take these general steps to find a copyright holder:
1. Determine the date of a work's creation or publication, and identify the creators or or copyright holders.
2. Old works (published in 1927 --95 years before the current year-- or before) may be in the public domain. See public domain checklists or Hirtle Chart (Cornell University Library, Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the U.S., https://copyright.cornell.edu/publicdomain) to determine this by its type of work (e.g., a work that is textual or music) and date of publication. Works in the public domain do not need copyright permission for reuse.
3. Consult with catalogs of copyright records or other finding aids for a particular format of work. The U.S. Copyright Office has catalogs with records from various dates for works made and registered in the U.S. Other copyright catalogs or search engines that focus on a type of work may also be useful. For images, try a reverse image search.
4. For international works where a copyright holder cannot be identified through its work, contact the copyright office for the country where it was created and registered.
Once a copyright holder has been identified, contact them to request permission for reuse. Experts recommend to keep records of your request.
Music, Images and Creative Works: Collective Management Organizations
Creators of music, visual, and other creative works frequently use collective or performance management organizations to handle requests to reuse their work. These organizations handle permissions and licensing, whether it is to reuse in a book, movie, or other new work. In the music and recording industry, BMI and SESAC are 2 such organizations. Permissions to reuse may be directed to the organization that does this on the behalf of a work's creator.
Finding Copyright Holders for Works Outside of the US
Copyright permissions still need to be secured when using works created or published outside of the U.S. International treaties have created a baseline of copyright laws, but they are not the same from country to country. You can often use the steps above to find a copyright holder for an international work. If not, a general way to do so is to check with a country's copyright registration office or their copyright catalogs. To determine if a work has copyright protection, you may need to consult with a country's copyright office, check their laws, or seek advice from an attorney who is knowledgeable in intellectual property for international jurisdictions.
Disclaimer: The FAU Libraries and its faculty, staff, and administration are not attorneys and cannot interpret the law. This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not substitute for advice from legal counsel. We also do not provide searches for copyright holders, but provide this resource to assist you.
US Copyright Office Catalogs
US Copyright Office (2020). Searching the public record [Video]. https://youtu.be/ldmoTwE7Jg0
Copyright Renewal Databases: Works from 1923 to 1963
Due to previous changes in copyright law, copyright protections are subject to having varying lengths of time. Check for when a work was copyrighted; if its copyright expired, be sure its copyright was not renewed. See copyright renewal catalogs to verify whether or not a work was renewed.
Text (Books, journals, or other publications)
Musicians and other performing artists typically have their copyright managed by a performing rights organization. Requests to reuse their work can be directed to the organization they hired.
Images and Fine Arts
If copyright information for an image is not available through its credits, a watermark, metadata, or other details, a reverse image search may point to it.
Theater: Musicals, Plays and Related Works
Performing rights organizations manage copyright permissions for theater and stage like they do for musicians and other performing artists. Rightsholders (and the organizations they hire on their behalf) give permission to perform a a theatrical work. Simply put, you'll need to secure permission to perform a play or musical for a public performance!
Movies, Film or Motion Picture