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USG Copyright Policy


Print friendly Modified November 11, 2009

For more information regarding requirements of the TEACH Act, please visit the University System of Georgia’s “Guide to the TEACH Act.”

Orphan Works

Print friendly Modified November 11, 2009

The situation is common: You want to use a copyrighted work beyond the limits of fair use or other copyright exception. You tracked down a likely copyright owner and have attempted to seek permission, but the effort simply has produced no conclusion. Worse, perhaps you did receive permission, but with burdensome conditions or a high price. Perhaps you wrote for permission, and the permission was flatly denied.

In some situations, you might have little choice but to absorb the bad news and change your plans. Much more complex and frustrating, however, is when you exert an honest effort, but you simply cannot find a copyright owner or your efforts go unanswered. When you cannot identify or locate the current owner, the copyright materials are sometimes called “orphan works.” In the meantime, what do you do when you reach that mysterious “dead end” of the quest?

Return to fair use.
When you originally evaluated fair use, you may have focused on an assumption about the “potential market” for the work in question, and the possible harm to that market caused by your use of the work. If you discover that there is truly no permissions market for this work, you should reevaluate the fourth factor in the fair use analysis. You may find that this factor now weighs in favor of fair use. For more information, visit the fair use pages of the USG Copyright Policy.

Replace the materials with alternative works.
If you reach a “dead end,” you should ask yourself whether those specific copyrighted works are the only materials that will satisfy your goals. In many cases, you can achieve your desired end results with works in the public domain and available for use without copyright restriction or from other copyright owners.

Alter your planned use of the copyrighted works.
Your ambitious plans may have involved scanning, digitizing, uploading, dissemination, Internet access, and multiple copies for students and colleagues, causing the copyright owner to deny permission for such broad uses. Changing your ambitious plans to something more modest and controllable may either change the copyright holder’s mind or increase the likelihood that you are within fair use. Reigning in the number of copies, scope of access, or potential for rapid digital duplication and dissemination, may tip the balance in favor of fair use.

Revised for use by the University System of Georgia, based upon the fair use resources provided by the Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University,

Collective Licensing Agencies

Print friendly Modified November 11, 2009

Collective licensing agencies are organizations meant to centralize copyright ownership information for their respective industries. These centers can expedite your search, either by putting you directly in touch with a copyright owner or by negotiating the copyright usage itself. However, most of these agencies do charge a fee for their services.

Select a type of work below to view information on licensing agencies for that industry.

Works in Print

  • Copyright Clearance Center
    The CCC should be your starting point if you are looking to get permission for a text-based work. The CCC can grant permission for thousands of works, many instantly online.
  • The Authors Registry
    A collaboration of literary rights organizations: The Authors Guild, The American Society of Journalists & Authors, The Dramatists Guild, and The Association of Authors’ Representatives.
  • Access Copyright
    Licenses works under Canadian copyright.
  • Author’s Licensing and Collecting Society
    The largest licensing agency in the United Kingdom, the ALCS represents writers of all genres, from text-book authors to poets and radio dramatists.

Online Works

Most online sources have contact information. Directly contacting the owner or administrator of the site is usually your best starting point. However, if this information is not helpful, try these agencies.

  • Copyright Clearance Center
    The CCC should be your starting point if you are looking to get permission for a text-based work. The CCC can grant permission for thousands of works, many instantly online.
  • iCopyright
    Focused on copyrights of digital and online content.

Musical Works: Performance Rights

Performance rights are all uses associated with public performance of copyrighted music, everything from concert performances to playing an artist’s music on overhead speakers in a retail space. Together, these three licensing agencies encompass the vast majority of published American music.

Musical Works: Mechanical Rights

Mechanical Rights are those associated with reproducing derivatives of copyrighted work, such as recording a “cover” of another artist’s song. Other examples would be reproducing the work as part of a collection album or as a ringtone. Once a composition has been commercially recorded, anyone may obtain a compulsory mechanical license pursuant to §115 of the United States Copyright Act. The royalty fee for using the material is set by law, and is known as the “statutory rate.”

Dramatic Works

Dramatic works may not be publicly performed without permission, either in their entirety or in smaller portions, such as excerpts, acts, scenes, monologues, etc. The rights that are needed to publicly perform a dramatic work that combines a musical work together with staging, dialogue, costuming, special lighting, choreography, etc. are referred to as grand performing rights. Grand performing rights are typically obtained from the creator of the work or their publisher.

The rights to publicly perform a single piece of music from a musical play in a non-dramatic fashion are often referred to as small performing rights. Small performing rights are typically obtained from organizations such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC. To qualify as a non-dramatic performance, a piece of music taken from a musical play may not make use of any form of staging, choreography, etc., even if the use of any of these elements is not intended to represent any part of the original musical play. For example, creating your own dance steps to a piece of music from a musical play disqualifies the use as a non-dramatic use and permission for the grand performing rights must be sought.

Pictoral, Graphic, and Sculptural Works

Many organizations license the use of still images. Unfortunately, there is not a real collective agency for this industry. Instead, contact the publisher of the picture, or in the alternative, seek out a royalty-free organization that specializes in the dissemination of free stock photography.

Motion Pictures and other Audio-Visual Works

Start your search with the Internet Movie Database to identify who owns the film (listed under the “Company Credits”). Some of the licensing agencies are:


Permission must be secured to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, or make derivative works of software. Nearly all software publishers may be contacted through their homepage on the Internet.

  • CNET
    CNET has comprehensive reviews of software. It also acts as a hub for the dissemination of free software through its download section.

Syndicated Comics, Cartoons, and Editorials

Religious Works

Revised for use by the University System of Georgia, based upon the fair use resources provided by the Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University,

Identifying the Copyright Owner

Print friendly Modified November 11, 2009

The first source for identifying the copyright owner is the copyright notice on the work, which often looks like this: Copyright © 2005, XYZ Corporation. Another important source is the registration of the claim of copyright with the United States Copyright Office. For information about searching registration records, see

However, the law does not require a copyright notice or registration, and the original owner may have transferred the copyright. Sometimes you simply need to contact any person associated with the work, such as the author, publisher, or benefactor, and ask about the copyright status and ownership.

Sample permission letters.


Print friendly Modified November 11, 2009

If you are seeking to use a copyrighted work, you may have to obtain permission from the copyright owner. The owner may be the original creator of the work or that person’s employer. The original author may also have transferred the copyright to a publisher or some other party. In some instances, you may contact the owner directly. In other cases, you can secure permission on behalf of the owner by contacting an industry licensing agency or a publisher. Sometimes, the copyright owner may require a fee or impose other conditions. You have to decide if the cost and conditions are acceptable, and you should feel free to negotiate. Keep in mind that permission is not necessary if (1) your use is within fair use or another copyright exception; (2) the work is not protected by copyright at all; or (3) your use is within the terms of a license agreement, including, for example, a Creative Commons license from the author.

Other Exceptions

Print friendly Modified November 11, 2009

Copyrights are subject to many limitations and exceptions that ultimately permit the public to make certain uses of copyrighted works. “Fair use” is the best known of these exceptions. The U.S. Copyright Act, however, includes more than a dozen statutory exceptions. Keep in mind that most of these exceptions are narrow in their application and depend upon meeting a variety of specific conditions. By contrast, fair use is flexible and general in application and scope. The important point is that the law gives several means for making lawful uses of copyrighted works in connection with research, teaching, and service at the University System of Georgia. Of course, one can also make lawful uses of copyrighted works with permission from the copyright owner. Other parts of this website offer guidance about fair use and permissions.

The following is a brief summary of some of the statutory exceptions, with references to the provision of the U.S. Copyright Act:

LIBRARY COPYING (Section 108). This provision permits libraries to make copies of materials for preservation and security, to give copies to users for their private study or research, and to send copies through interlibrary loan. Like most of the exceptions, this provision applies only to certain types of works, and only under certain circumstances.

FIRST SALE (Section 109(a)). This important exception limits the “distribution rights” of the copyright holder by providing that once the owner authorizes the release of lawful copies of a work, those copies may in turn be passed along to others by sale, rental, loan, gift, or other transfer. This exception allows libraries to lend materials and bookstores to sell books.

PUBLIC DISPLAYS (Section 109(c)). One of the rights of copyright owners is the right to make “public displays,” but this statute allows the owner of a lawful copy of a work to display it to the public at the place where the work is located. An art museum that owns a painting may hang it on the wall; a bookstore can place books on display in front windows; and a library may put materials in the display cases for all to see.

DISPLAYS AND PERFORMANCES IN FACE-TO-FACE TEACHING (Section 110(1)). Under this exception, educators may perform and display all types of works in a classroom or similar place at most educational institutions. It allows instructors and students to recite poetry, read plays, show videos, play music, project slides, and engage in many other performances and displays of protected works in the classroom setting. This exception is actually comparatively simple and broad, but keep in mind that it permits only displays and performances in the classroom—not the making of copies or the posting of digital works on servers.

DISPLAYS AND PERFORMANCES IN DISTANCE EDUCATION (Section 110(2)). When materials are displayed or performed to students at remote locations, or “transmitted” to students at any location, the rules change. This exception is known as “the TEACH Act” and was revised in 2002 to address issues of online education. The new law allows posting of materials to servers, but only subject to a long list of conditions. Many colleges and universities are struggling with this statute, and many rely instead on fair use or permissions.

COMPUTER SOFTWARE (Section 117). This exception allows the owner of a copy of a computer program to modify the program to work on his or her computer or computer platform, and to make a back-up copy of the software to use in the event of damage to or destruction of the original copy. Realistically, most commercial programs are sold for use on multiple platforms, or the rights of use may be governed by license agreements.

ARCHITECTURAL WORKS (Section 120). Architectural designs are protected by copyright, but this exception makes clear that once a building is constructed at a place visible to the public, anyone may make and use a picture of that building without infringing the copyright in the architectural design. We might infringe copyright when we reproduce blueprints or duplicate the Trump Tower, but we are not infringing when we snap a photograph and use it in a book or on postcards.

SPECIAL FORMATS FOR PERSONS WHO ARE BLIND OR HAVE OTHER DISABILITIES (Section 121). This exception permits certain organizations to make specific formats of published, non-dramatic literary works in order that they may be useful to persons who are blind or have other disabilities. For example, some educational institutions and libraries may be able to make large-print or Braille versions of some works in the collection.

For Further Information:

Full text of the U.S. Copyright Act

Revised for use by the University System of Georgia, based upon the fair use resources provided by the Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University,