You Need Permission to Reprint That! What Authors Need to Know About Copyright Clearances

by Lesley-Anne Longo & Beth McAuley

Published at 2023-07-05

Anyone writing a manuscript—be it a book, a journal article, a blog, a newsletter—has to understand only one thing about wanting to reprint material that has already been published: You need permission to reprint that material. That is, you need to ask permission from the owner of that material if you can use it in your own work. Copyright holders are most often publishers, but they can also be individual authors and artists, museums and art galleries, estates of deceased authors, trust foundations, newspaper publishers, or independent photographers.

We cannot emphasize enough to our clients just how important it is to start your permissions clearances as soon as you begin writing your manuscripts. If you are including any of these items, you will need to seek permission to reprint them:

Lengthy quotations and extracts from books

Short quotations that will open your book chapters

Song lyrics—even just one line of a song


Photographs and artwork


Tables and graphs


These materials are under what is called “copyright” if they appear in already published works. Copyright law protects the intellectual property of others and it is the due diligence of authors (and publishers) to make sure permission to reprint another’s work is given before it can be reprinted.

We outline here some important steps that will help you prepare for working through the permissions process and the seeking of copyright clearances to reprint materials.


Start Immediately: Permissions Take Time to Clear

This is so important to understand: Permissions take time to clear. Recently we spoke to an author who called to ask if we could help her clear permissions for her memoir. She was using epigraphs and poems and music lyrics in her manuscript and had been told by her publisher she would need permission to use these materials. In total, about fifteen pieces. She phoned on a Thursday. She explained why she was calling and then asked, “Can these be cleared by tomorrow?”

I said, “You mean tomorrow, as in Friday?”

“Yes,” she said. 

“No, that’s impossible,” I replied. In the end, she had to pull all her permissionable materials because there just wasn’t enough time to clear them.


No, Really, Start Immediately!

That client was surprised to find out permissions work takes more than just a few hours to finish—in reality, permissions work commonly takes months to complete. Two recent permissions projects we have undertaken have each lasted much longer than the clients anticipated: one project lasted two months and the other lasted five months! It’s typically not as simple as sending out an email and getting a reply back; you often have to account for redirects (perhaps you thought someone owned the copyright, but they direct you to someone else, and that person sends you elsewhere, and so on), following up multiple times in the case of a non-reply, and researching into just who owns the rights to that item, anyway. We cannot stress this enough: allow yourself as much time as possible to complete the permissions work! Start as early as possible, because you never know what snags you may hit.


Permissions Will Cost You Money: Have a Budget

Plan on a two-part budget: hiring a permissions editor to clear materials for you, and paying fees for permissions to reprint.

When we estimate for a permissions project, we always allow two to three hours per permissions work. In that time, we need to identify the copyright holder, which is often the most time-consuming task; prepare the paperwork with the details of the to-be-published work (book pages, print run, countries it will be sold in, and so on); make the application; do the follow-ups; manage the licences and invoices. If you have 10 permissions, we may need 20 to 30 hours for clearances.

The copyright holder has the right to charge a fee for reprinting material. In some cases, the fees are waived or the permission is granted at no cost. Fees can range from $25 to several hundred. Sometimes we can gauge a permission cost when we do a bit of preliminary research into the copyright holder. But most often we only know a cost when the permission is granted. So you need to be prepared for the possibility of paying a fee.  


Different Types of Permissions Require Different Processes

You might be surprised to learn that permissions work can extend to different types of intellectual property outside of just writing.

We recently took on a project for a client that involved sourcing the permissions for a number of art pieces—some housed in museums, some not, some possibly public domain, and many that had more than one copyright owner attached to the piece. What this involved was emailing museums, artists’ estates, and organizations such as SODRAC in Canada (an organization that manages art rights) in order to find out who owned parts of the work. It was definitely a challenge (and involved a staggering amount of emailing), but in the end we were able to find the correct sources for the client, who was then able to use these images in her book.

We also worked on a project with a client who was using bits of writing for his upcoming book; interestingly, all the bits of writing were being used as epigraphs to open chapters. We determined that some of the pieces could be considered fair use, but the publisher was much stricter, and required permissions for each epigraph. We contacted multiple publishers and outlets (such as magazines or journals), and luckily got quick replies back for most. In the end, we were sadly unable to clear epigraphs from two specific publishers, even after three months of following up, and had to let those particular requests go. We were out of time because the publisher of our client’s book had to go to print.

This is what we mean when we suggest giving yourself lots of time! You never know how backed up a publisher may be with permissions requests, or whether or not they’ll be responsive at all.

Another memorable permissions  project was when we worked with Tom Wayman to clear music lyrics for inclusion in his book If You’re Not Free at Work, Where Are You Free? This was a little unfamiliar to us, but we took it on! It involved copious amounts of research in order to discover who had written the songs (a few were not very well known) and who owned the copyright now—tricky, when in more than one case, the original recording studio had long since gone out of business. This research involved scouring websites for mentions of the old recording studios, looking into copyright databases such as SESAC and ASCAP, and the United States Copyright Office Public Catalog. In the end, we were able to clear the lyrics Tom wanted to include in his publication.


Permission Is Not Always Granted, so Have a Plan B

As we’ve mentioned, in some cases, permission is not granted, for a variety of reasons. You should be prepared for this possibility, and be prepared with a Plan B for what you’ll do if it turns out you can’t use the content you are sourcing.

One option is paraphrasing or describing; for example, in the case of the art pieces mentioned above, if the author was not granted permission to use an image of a certain piece, she could certainly make mention of it and describe it instead.

If you are not able to use a piece of text, can you boil it down and paraphrase it instead?

If you can’t afford the price of one line from a song, can you refer to the title of the song and allude to the lyrics?

Another option is to simply take the piece out. Obviously this is less preferable, but sometimes you may not have a choice. So you need to be prepared to take this step.


The Tricky Question of Public Domain

What is “public domain”? Public domain describes materials that are no longer protected by any intellectual property laws such as copyright or trademark laws. Works fall into public domain under certain conditions, and once they do, they are considered to be works owned by the public, as opposed to an artist or author. These works are free to use and you may use them without obtaining permission. Access Copyright defines public domain as follows:

The public domain includes all works no longer protected by copyright. Works fall into the public domain once copyright expires.  The term of copyright in Canada is typically 50 years after the death of the last living copyright owner.  When making this assessment all copyright owners are considered; including editors, illustrators and translators.


There is also fair dealing, which is a right contained in the Copyright Act. Fair dealing allows you to copy from a copyrighted work, without the copyright owner's permission, if

the copy is for the purposes of: research, private study, education, parody, satire, criticism, review or news reporting; and your dealing (use) is fair.


However, neither the Copyright Act, nor the courts that interpret fair dealing describe exactly what is fair in any one particular instance (University of British Columbia, “Copyright at UBC”; for more, see here). Rather, to determine whether a particular piece of copy qualifies as a fair dealing, one must consider all of the surrounding factors. A permissions editor can help you with this.


If You Are Unsure, Have Your Manuscript Assessed

If you are unsure if the materials you wish to reprint need to be cleared for permissions, have your manuscript assessed by a professional permissions editor. At TEC, we will assess your manuscript for permissionable items, compile a permissions report of what requires clearance, consult with you to determine areas where paraphrasing and trimming are possible, and compile a final list of copyrighted materials to be cleared.

This will give you the best idea of what your own permissions journey may look like, and give you peace of mind that you are publishing another’s work within the bounds of copyright law.

So, to sum up, be sure to give yourself plenty of time to organize and clear the materials you want to reprint in your work. Plan a budget and make sure you have a Plan B. In this way you are respecting the copyright of other writers and artists while creating your own work.



Our Copyright & Permissions services can help you assess your manuscript for permissions and help you clear the items you want to reprint. Give us a call!