Tracking down the copyright owner can be a challenge in itself. In most cases it’s not the author but actually the publisher that owns the copyright. When authors get ready to publish an article or book, more than likely they have transferred copyright over to the publisher. The Copyright Advisory Office at Columbia University has complied an extensive list of resources to assist in locating copyright owners along with sample permission letters.
In order to secure permission from the copyright owner you need to write a letter that includes:
If the copyright holder can't be located or is unresponsive (or if you are unwilling to pay a license fee), be prepared to use a limited amount that qualifies for fair use, or use alternative material.
Remember that you don’t need to request permission if:
Obtaining copyright permissions and high resolution images from libraries and museums in other countries can present a unique set of challenges. Each situation/country/entity is different and you may have a very positive experience, but keep the following tips in mind to help ensure smooth sailing:
Start early! You may run into less-than-responsive public functionaries and bureaucratic procedures that draw out the copyright permissions process. U.S. publishers are not typically flexible with their deadlines, so the fact that email replies take weeks or seven forms have to be submitted for each image will not win you much sympathy.
Get to know someone on the inside. Next time you find yourself in a dusty archive somewhere, make friends with the office in charge of copyright and reproduction. Or take advantage of that one time you met your colleague's former neighbor's sister-in-law whose cousin works in the National Library of Narnia. Having a connection with someone who can speed your request along will save weeks, if not months, of your life.
Request everything your publisher needs up front. Is your book coming out electronically as well? Some entities may consider that to be a separate edition and therefore require a separate permissions request. Does your publisher need 600 dpi or will 300 dpi do the trick? Going back to get a higher resolution may cost you weeks, so it's worth confirming their needs before submitting any requests.
Review all the paperwork first. Think a high resolution image is automatically included in your copyright permission request? Double-check! You may need to submit separate request forms for the copyright permissions and the image itself, and those processes may have separate fees attached. You may have to fax (or even snail-mail) these forms, as online submission options are by no means guaranteed.
Clearly identify any documents or payments submitted in support of the request. Once you have that assigned request number, plaster it on everything you submit. Have to pay the permissions fee with a wire transfer? Your name and request number should feature prominently on that form, or they may not realize you've paid them.
Consider potential scheduling challenges. We joke that most of Europe goes on vacation in August, but sometimes, it really does seem like most of Europe goes on vacation in August. If you have a September 1 deadline with your publisher, perhaps just consider August 1 to be your deadline for copyright permissions from the National Library of Spain.
Ask for help. Is this your first rodeo? Chances are a colleague in your field may have navigated the wilds of international copyright permissions before and can provide insider knowledge. Also, don't forget to ask your friendly neighborhood subject librarian! Many of us have contacts in far flung libraries, or belong to professional organizations with members all over the world.