Clearing copyright

You will usually need to clear copyright to include material in your book that is not your own. Copyright must be cleared before you submit your manuscript. It can take months for rights holders to respond to permission requests so please start the process as early as possible.

The first step is to decide if you need to clear copyright. If you do, you will need to identify who holds the reproduction rights to the work. For text extracts, if the book is still in print then this is likely to be held by the publisher. If the book is out of print, the rights will probably be held by the author or their estate. Image rights could be held by a gallery or the artist. If you have found quoted text or an image in another book, it should say who the copyright holder is.

Different rights holders have different processes for requesting permission to use work in copyright. If they have a website, this information should be available there; otherwise, contact them directly for instructions.

You will need to request the following rights:

  • Territory: World.
  • Language: English.
  • Format: Print (hardback and paperback) and electronic.
  • Editions: one edition only (including all reprints).

You will need to provide some information about your book. Contact your assistant commissioning editor and they will be able to tell you what you need.

Do you need to clear copyright?

Fair Dealing

It is generally agreed that no fee will be set for copyrighted text reproduced for the purposes of criticism, review, non-commercial research or the reporting of current events. 

This is called Fair Dealing, or Fair Use in the USA.

Fair Dealing guidelines are not legally binding but are based on a ‘fair trade’ agreement.

An appropriate acknowledgement must accompany materials reproduced under Fair Dealing. You do not need to request formal permission from the copyright holder.

As a general rule: if in doubt, contact the copyright holder.

Fair Dealing checklist

  • Are you truly reviewing or critiquing (i.e. engaging with) the material, not just quoting it?
  • Is the reproduction of this material genuinely necessary to make your point?

Yes to both of the above ► this may fall under Fair Dealing

  • Are you reproducing a significant proportion of the material?
  • Are you reproducing a particularly important element of the material?
  • Would including this material mean that people might buy your book instead of the original?

Yes to any of the above ► you need to clear copyright

Film stills

There is no legal precedent for the use of film stills in academic publications. The Society for Cinema Studies advises that frame enlargements (or screen grabs) published in a scholarly book will most likely fall into the category of Fair Dealing. These recommendations are not legally binding but seem sensible.

Always clear permission for:

  • Substantial sections of text for any purpose (note: there is no legal definition of what counts as ‘substantial’).
  • Any extract of text that is not for the purpose of criticism, review or reporting current events (e.g. an epigraph).
  • An extract that forms the main argument of the work being quoted.
  • Extracts from unpublished work.
  • Extracts from a newspaper, journal or magazine.
  • Pictures, figures, maps and tables.
  • Trademarks: brand images, advertisements and logos.
  • Extracts from poetry or song lyrics.

Clearing copyright – your checklist

1. Check your author/editor contract regarding permission fees and who pays them.

  • If you have agreed a permissions budget with your commissioning editor, make sure that you stay within this.
    • Fees exceeding the budget may be charged directly to you.
    • If you look like you are going to exceed your budget, contact your editor as soon as possible to discuss your options.
  • If the final permissions bill looks too high, there are several options that you can follow:
    • Try to negotiate a lower fee.
    • Contact the author or creator and ask them to intervene on your behalf.
    • Replace the material with a cheaper alternative.
    • Shorten the material and negotiate a lower fee.
    • Remove the material entirely.

2. Make a list of everything you need to clear copyright for and keep a track of all of the important information on a permissions tracker spreadsheet.

  • Download the permission tracker template (xlsx)
  • If the copyright holder gives you a specific wording to use in the acknowledgement, be sure to reproduce this exactly.
  • Use this tracker as a basis for creating your acknowledgements page.

3. Check the copyright holder's website to see what their process is for requesting permission and follow their instructions.

  • If you cannot find the information on the copyright holder's website, start with an email or a phonecall to find out how to request permission.
  • Some copyright holders may ask you to contact individual authors or creators (often a requirement of US publishers).

4. Ask for ‘non-exclusive world English language print and electronic rights for one edition only, including all reprints’.

5. Make every effort to seek formal permissions clearance from the copyright holder.

  • It is widely and informally accepted that ‘every effort’ has been made if you have sent at least three requests seeking permission, on three separate occasions, to the appropriate address.
  • Allow at least four months to clear copyright. Permissions departments are notoriously slow so you should wait four weeks for them to reply between requests.
  • If you have made every effort to clear permission, and have had no reply, you must still include a full copyright credit line in your acknowledgements page to show that you have made every effort to credit the copyright owner of the material.
  • Make sure you keep a copy of every request that you send to prove that you have made every effort to seek permission.

5. Send us your acknowledgements page, your permissions tracker and all copies of your correspondence when you send us your final manuscript.

Any questions?

Contact your assistant commissioning editor if you have any questions about clearing copyright permissions.

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