How to Get Written Copyright Permission to Use a Picture

By Tom Streissguth

You must secure permission to reproduce images under copyright. The copyright holder may be an individual photographer, an agency that offers the use of images, a museum or library that has the rights to a collection, or a publisher that has used the image in a book, magazine, or web site. The procedure is usually straightforward, although use and reproduction fees may also apply.

Step 1

Contact the copyright holder. For an image already published, you can usually identify the person or organization by examining the text accompanying the image for a copyright statement. If you can't find a copyright statement, contact the publisher or website that reproduced the image.

Step 2

Request a permission form from the copyright holder. Larger publishers, agencies and organizations have rights departments that handle reproduction requests. An individual photographer will have a simple permission request form; if not, you must secure a written permission in the form of a signed letter or statement. You can't reproduce a copyrighted image with a verbal permission; it has to be in writing.

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Step 3

Complete the permission form. You will have to note how and why you wish to use a picture. This includes the size of the reproduced image, the format, and the venue in which the picture will be used. Permission fees often vary by how the image is used; commercial use is often more expensive than use for charities, educational organizations, or non-profits. If you need a copy of the picture, for example, a print to be scanned for publication, you will also have to pay a reproduction fee.

Step 4

Submit the permission and reproduction requests, along with the fees, to the copyright holder. Use certified mail, or a tracking number, to ensure your permission request has reached the owner. Don't use the picture until the owner has returned a written permission, which will specify the use and format parameters. Use fees range from about $10 for limited-run or free/non-profit publications up to several thousand dollars for a multimedia ad campaign.

Step 5

Provide a copy of the publication, or a URL link for a web page, to the owner after hardcopy or online publication.

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