Chapter 7: Giving Credit and Requesting Permission

Guidelines for using Material Other than Your Own

If you plan to include anything in your book which has not been created originally by you, you will need to give credit to the source, citing publication details when appropriate. You may also need to obtain permission from the copyright owner. Some examples are:

  • Quotes-whether from interviews you have conducted, from a published or unpublished work, or from any other source, including online postings.

  • Poems or song lyrics, or parts of poems or song lyrics, whether published or unpublished.

  • Illustrations, paintings, graphics, or other artwork.

  • Photographs-even those you take yourself may require a model release.

  • Tables, charts, or graphs.

  • Written or graphic material from the Web.

These are the most common kinds of non original material, but there may be others. It is the responsibility of the author to determine if content from another source requires permission for use, or if it falls under the rule of "fair use" (explained in the section "How do I know when I need permission?"). It is also the author's responsibility to obtain such permission, including payment of any fees which the copyright owner requests as a condition for granting permission. This document discusses the various kinds of non original material you might want to include in your book, offers guidelines for obtaining permission (including sample forms, attached at the end), includes information about citing sources-even if permission isn't required, and will help you avoid the most common pitfalls associated with using non original material.

How do you know when you need permission?

Giving credit to the source of quotes, research findings, graphic elements, and other material not originated by you is imperative in every instance. But how do you know when a particular item requires that you obtain permission from the copyright owner in order to include it in your book? The following suggestions are not from any official source-there is no such list-but have been gleaned from research and experience. It is recommended that you look into the issue of copyright infringement for yourself-at least enough to feel confident about making decisions regarding the necessity of obtaining permission. A resource list is included at the end of this document.

  • Unpublished material, including quotes from email, telephone, or in-person interviews, and posts to mailing lists or newsgroups. Whether it is from someone you know, from archived postings, or from an unpublished print document, it is best to obtain permission before including anything in your book which has been authored by someone else but not previously published. Usually, a fee is not required, but all such contributors should receive a complementary copy of your book.

  • Quotes from published books. Publishers require you to obtain permission if you are quoting text in excess of a maximum word count-anywhere between 100 and 1000 words, depending on the publisher. Whether you want to include one long quote or a number of short quotes, if the total exceeds 100 words, you should contact the publisher for their guidelines. Publishers often charge a fee for granting permission to quote from one of their publications. Amounts may vary, but $100 is typical.

  • Quotes from periodicals. If you want to quote from a magazine, journal, or newspaper, the word limit may be less than for books. Contact the publisher and ask for their guidelines if you are quoting more than 50 words. A fee may be required.

  • Previously published poetry. Permission is usually required if you use more than two lines of a poem. If the whole poem is only a few lines long, you may need permission to quote any of it. A fee may be required.

  • Illustrations, figures, tables, charts-all visual material. You will probably need permission for anything of this nature, and will likely have to pay a fee. However, it would be worth your while to check the resources listed at the end of this document for exceptions. For instance, a simple chart that lists the typical methods of treatment for various forms of cancer might be okay, since it contains only facts, and facts cannot be copyrighted. Most material published by the U.S. government is not copyrighted-you would not need permission to reprint the U.S.D.A. Food Pyramid.

  • Photographs that you have taken. Even though this is created by you, you will need to obtain a model release from any person whose face is clearly shown (recognizable), whether or not they have posed for it.

  • Photographs someone else has taken for your book. You will need written permission from the photographer. If the photographer is not a professional, you should make sure all appropriate model releases have been signed as well.

  • Photographs from a publication. You will need permission from the copyright owner. This may be the publisher or the photographer, depending on who owns the rights to sell the photograph to another publisher. A fee may be required.

  • Written or graphic material from the Web. It is best to request permission to use anything found on a personal Web site. For commercial, educational, or organizational sites, use the guidelines for similar material in print sources. For U.S. government sites, material is often not under copyright, although if it has been prepared by a company in the private sector, it may be. It is less likely that payment of a fee will be a condition for permission than with publishers of print sources, but this will depend on the kind and amount of material you wish to use. Sometimes Web pages specify that material on them can be freely used. Be sure to note if there are restrictions on such use, for example, if it is only for private use by individuals, or only for non profit uses.

  • Unsure about something? Contact the copyright owner and ask them what their guidelines are regarding the material you wish to use.

The suggestions above are based on the concept of fair use. According to the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, any use of copyrighted material which cannot be considered fair use constitutes copyright infringement. Material does not have to be registered with the Copyright Office or even labeled with a copyright notice to be protected under copyright law. A post to the CatCodependents mailing list about how Fluffy fared at the Fancy Fur feline show, is protected by copyright.

The following section of the Copyright Act outlines the four considerations used to determine fair use.

"In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work."*

*From: 17 U.S.C. § 107-Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair Use (1988 ed. and Supp. IV).

Because your book is intended to be profitable, it is important to pay close attention to the other three considerations. Unfortunately, the line between fair use and copyright infringement is not unequivocally drawn, so it is sometimes difficult to know if what you plan to use requires permission. The resource list at the end of this document can help you to get a clearer understanding of fair use.

What doesn't require permission?

Not all material is under copyright and there are some things that cannot be copyrighted. The resources listed at the end of this document can help you get a more complete view of the kinds of things for which you don't need to obtain permission, or maybe even cite the source. The two you will most likely encounter are:

  • Facts. Facts cannot be copyrighted. If you are writing a detailed explanation of how the nervous system works, you don't need to get permission from the references you use to research the information. Of course, you will need to put the explanation in your own words, and not merely repeat verbatim from a reference work-that would require permission. Since much of your book will be factual information, it would get awfully cluttered if you cited the references you used each time. Although it isn't legally necessary to include these sources at all, you will probably want to include the best ones in a bibliography or reference list.

  • Material in the public domain. If you want to quote Shakespeare, you don't need to worry about tracking down his closest living relative. Much (but not all) of what the U.S. government publishes is not under copyright, so it is freely available to be reprinted. Some Web pages have a notice that they have been expressly placed in the public domain.

It's important to be careful about assuming a piece of material is in the public domain-there can be surprises. There is good information about public domain in several of the resources listed at the end of this document.

Technically, you aren't obliged to give credit to public domain sources, but in some instances you will want to do so for the reader's benefit or simply to give credit where it's due.

Who owns the copyright?

Most of the time, you won't have any trouble identifying the owner of the copyright for the material you wish to use. Sometimes, though, it can be a challenge. Suppose you find a great poem by a deceased poet in an anthology. The publisher of the anthology is probably not the copyright owner of the poem. You might try contacting the publisher to see if they have information about the copyright owner, but what if they aren't helpful? The following list guides you to the best places to find the owners of the copyrighted material you wish to use.

  • Unpublished material. The author (or photographer, illustrator, etc.) is the copyright owner. Contact them directly. If they are deceased, request permission from their surviving spouse, or, if no spouse, their next of kin.

  • Books. Look on the copyright page-usually on the back of the title page-for the name and address of the publisher. Even if the copyright notice is in the name of the author, you will need to request permission from the publisher, since the author has sold the rights to them.

  • Periodicals. Magazines, journals, and newspapers have contact information included in each issue, usually in the first few pages or on the editorial page. As with books, you need to request permission from the publisher, not the author of the article. (It is possible the author has sold only limited rights to the periodical. They should advise you if the author has retained the rights to offer the material to other publishers.)

  • Graphic elements, such as photography, in published works. Start with the publisher to determine who owns the rights for the purpose of granting permission for publication in your book-it could be either the publisher or the creator of the work.

  • Web sites. Often, the webmaster has the power to grant permission to reprint original material found on a Web site. If not, he can direct you to the appropriate person within the organization. Look for an email address to which to send questions or comments about the site. If there is no contact information, try sending email to "webmaster@" followed by the domain name.

  • If the current copyright owner is not obvious, try the Internet. Look for a Web page devoted to the author or an FAQ about her. For example, an Internet search turned up an FAQ about Emily Dickinson which listed the copyright owner of her poems.

  • If all else fails, you can search the Catalog of Copyright Entries, published by the Copyright Office. Your public library may have this available. For copyrights registered after 1978, this information is on the Internet (see: It is less than user friendly, but with a little practice, you might be able to find what you need.

You can also request the Copyright Office to conduct a search for the copyright status (including copyright owner if there is one) of the material you wish to use. They charge $20 an hour for this service and it may take several weeks to get a response. Faster, but more expensive, are copyright search firms. Some of these are listed in The Copyright Handbook, included on the resource list at the end of this document.

For more information about copyright searches, see the Copyright Office Circular 22, How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work. It is online at: circ22. It might also be at your local library, or can be requested by calling the Copyright Office 24-hour line at 202-707-9100.

Are there any pitfalls to avoid?

There are a number of issues around reprinting material, citing sources, and obtaining permission which, if not attended to, could at best delay the publication of your book, and at worst land you in court.

  • Don't wait until the last minute to request permission. Next to being scrupulous about seeking necessary permissions, the most important thing to remember is that you need to begin the process as early as possible. U.S. publishers can take up to ten weeks to respond to a request for permission. Copyright owners in foreign countries might take several months to respond. And if you are dealing with the copyright owner of an unpublished work, you may need to follow up several times before getting an answer. It is risky to move a book into production if required permissions have not been granted, so waiting to get these could affect the timely release of your book.

  • Get all permissions in writing. Some of the material you want to include may be from friends or others with whom you have an informal relationship. It's still important to get more than a casual, "sure, you can use that in your book." Included with this guide are simple forms you can use to specify what material you intend to use, with a place for the creator of the material to sign, confirming that permission is granted to use it.

  • Don't assume there is no copyright in effect because there is no copyright notice on the material. A copyright notice is no longer required for material to be protected under copyright law. For example, if you find an eloquent explanation posted to an online newsgroup, you would need permission from the author of the post in order to use it. Or if your neighbor's daughter wrote a term paper containing information about her college research, you would need her written permission to quote from it.

  • Don't assume that material on a Web site is free for the taking. It might seem logical that since anyone with Web access-which theoretically could be everyone-can look at a Web page, it is intended to be free to everyone, so permission to use it isn't necessary. This is not the case. The same rules that apply to material from other media apply to material from a Web site.

  • Don't assume that because an author is deceased, or material is commonly used, that permission is not required. For example, the use of an Emily Dickinson poem, or the song, "Happy Birthday to You," both require permission. (You are free to use anything in the public domain, but it's a good idea to make sure material really is in the public domain, and not just assume so because it's been around for awhile. Check out some of the resources at the end of this document for more information about public domain.)

  • Paraphrasing does not mean you don't need permission. Using synonyms for some of the words, changing the order of a sentence here and there, omitting a phrase or two, does not mean that a quote will now be considered original material. However, if you read a four-page article and summarize its content in an original paragraph, you don't need permission-but you do still need to give credit to the source.

  • Giving credit to your source does not take the place of getting permission to use material. It is important to cite all sources for any material not original to your book, but this is not the same thing as obtaining permission, and does not excuse you from that obligation if the inclusion cannot be considered fair use. If permission is required, the owner of the copyright may require you to use a specific format for crediting the source.

  • All quotes from previously published material should be written exactly as they were in the original source. Whether or not permission is required, don't change punctuation or any other element, even if it was done incorrectly (use "[sic]" if the error is egregious). If you omit portions of the original, be sure to use ellipses as explained in The Chicago Manual of Style. When citing the source, take care to spell the author's name correctly, and list the title of the work and all publication information accurately (a Source Checklist is attached to this document and will aid in making sure you have all necessary information). Quotes from interviews you conduct may need to be polished up a bit, especially for punctuation, grammar, and tense agreement, although you should be careful to preserve the words and individuality of the speaker. Be sure to let the person know you may be doing this kind of editing and when you ask for their written permission, include the exact words you intend to use, including necessary editing, so that they can grant permission to the version that will appear in your book.

What is the process for obtaining permission?

Once you have determined that permission is required and identified the owner of the copyright, you should be able to get written permission to include the non original material you want in your book by following the steps below. It is possible, though, that someone will not grant permission, so be prepared to omit or replace anything you need permission to use.

  • Contact the owner of the copyright. If this is a publication, ask for the person or department devoted to granting permissions.

  • For individuals who have provided quotes or photographs, or for material posted online by individuals, let them know what material of theirs you would like to use and ask them to sign a permission form (samples are attached to this document). If sending the form and having it "signed" by email is more convenient, this is acceptable. Be sure to get an address where we can send a complementary copy of the book when it is released.

  • For material from Web sites, send an email message to the webmaster or other contact person listed (a sample message and response are included with the forms attached to this document). Permission granted by email is acceptable, but make sure it includes the person's full name and title-they won't always use the form you send. If a complementary copy of your book is a condition of permission, be sure they have provided a street address.

  • For publishers, ask what they require for a permission request. Publishers often want you to include specific information about your book, as well as the material (with page numbers) you wish to reprint from theirs. You should be able to get this information over the phone, but you will probably have to mail or fax the actual request. A sample letter-of-request and the publisher's response are included with the forms attached to this document. Be sure to ask how long it will take to receive a response, and if there are any fees.

  • If you don't hear back from the copyright owner in a reasonable length of time, follow up.

  • Once you receive a response, read it through carefully so that you are aware of any conditions for permission. Individuals may want their name listed a particular way in your acknowledgments; publishers may want a specific credit line.

  • If payment is required, you will have to send this within the time frame allowed in order for the permission to be in effect.

Send all originals of signed permissions, including conditions, along with proof of any payments to O'Reilly & Associates. It's a good idea for you to keep copies for yourself as well.


The obvious way to avoid the problems, time, effort, and possible expense of obtaining permissions is not to include anything in your book which will require permission from the copyright owner. To be sure, this is something to be considered when deciding what might augment or support your words, and how important you believe it is to the overall quality of your book. But the most important consideration is to make your book as enlightening and useful for readers as possible. This may mean including material for which you need to obtain permission, and almost certainly will mean including material for which credit must be given. Here are the most important points to remember:

  • Plan ahead.

  • Get enough information about fair use and copyright law to make good decisions regarding the necessity of obtaining permission for what you want to include.

  • Keep accurate, complete information about the sources you use (a Source Checklist is attached to help you document sources).

  • Get all permissions in writing.

We understand that this can be a tedious task, and will be glad to offer whatever additional knowledge and expertise we have to help you get through it. Please let us know if you encounter problems.


  • The Chicago Manual of Style has a basic introduction to the guidelines established by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, and discusses situations when permission is required. It also details the various forms of credit lines and when to use them. See the chapter, "Rights and Permissions," and look under the index entries for copyright, credit, and permissions.

  • The Copyright Handbook: How to Protect and Use Written Works, 4th edition, by Stephen Fishman. Berkeley: Nolo Press, 1997. Excellent, easy to understand, and up to date. Contains a whole chapter on "Using Other Authors' Words." Doesn't cover information about copyright for graphic elements. Widely available in bookstores and libraries. Online, see When Copying Is OK: The 'Fair Use' Rule by Stephen Fishman at:

  • Various publications by the U.S. Copyright office, especially Circular 1, Copyright Basics; Circular 22, How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work; and Form Letter FL102, Fair Use. These may be available at your local library, or you can call the Copyright Office 24-hour line at 202-707-9100 and leave a voice mail message. Circular 2, Publications on Copyright, provides a complete list of their publications. All Copyright Office publications-and other information-are available online at the Copyright Office website:

  • Terry Carroll's Copyright Resource Page at: Includes a thorough FAQ and links to many other good sites, including a copy of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976.

  • Stanford's Copyright and Fair Use page at: Lots of fair use related links, including some to good articles regarding material found on the Web.

  • The Copyright Website at: Good coverage, including "The Fair Use Test" at:

  • 10 Big Myths about Copyright Explained at:

Source Checklist

This checklist will help to ensure that you have all necessary information for reference notes, bibliographies, resource pages, and contributor lists.