The Copyright Owner

Identifying the owner

Usually the copyright owner of a published work can be identified from the information given on the back of the title page. The author of a book (or their estate if the author is deceased) is usually the copyright holder whereas for journal articles the publisher of the journal will be the copyright holder rather than the author of the individual articles.

For anything published within the last 25 years, the publisher also owns the copyright of the typographical layout. You will therefore need the publisher’s permission if you intend to photocopy or scan a text, even if the author has been dead for a considerable time.

The copyright in images included in a published work or on a webpage is often not owned by the copyright owner of the accompanying text. The copyright details are usually shown beside the image, or listed separately elsewhere in the publication.

Locating publishers and rights departments

Your first port of call should be to contact the publisher. The publishers website will normally provide comprehensive information on how to apply for permission to use their material.

If the publisher is no longer in business

  • If the book has an ISBN, the ISBN prefix may have been taken over by another publisher or group. You can search the FOB (Firms out of Business) database for publishers who have gone out of business
  • Consult the British Library CatalogueCOPAC, or an online bookshop such as Amazon to see whether there is a more recent edition of the book in print
  • Try to trace the author, as the rights may have reverted to him or her

Locating known individuals who own the copyright

Authors of theses:

  • A search of a bibliographic database may reveal some recent publications by the author concerned, and may yield up-to-date contact details.
  • The department in which the research was carried out may know the current address of the author and be able to forward correspondence
  • Many UK universities have an alumni office which will forward letters to graduates for whom they have an address on file. The University of Aberdeen are happy to forward correspondence to the copyright holder where the thesis was awarded by the University of Aberdeen. You can contact the alumni office Find a Friend service.

Authors of journal articles:

  • Try to locate the most recent work by the author as this is likely to contain their most recent address. A very general bibliographic tool such as Scopus, Web of Science or Google can be useful. Social media may also be used to locate authors.
  • If the address given in the article is out of date, someone there may be able to give a current address or forward correspondence

Authors and illustrators:

  • Try a search on the internet using the authors/illustrator’s name and title of the work
  • The publisher may be able and willing to pass on correspondence to the rightsholder
  • A publisher of the author's later work may be able to assist
  • The Society of Authors [UK] may be able to help
  • The Design and Artists Copyright Society may represent an artist or photographer

Identifying unknown copyright owners

  • Try to locate the most recent work of the author concerned and contact the publisher.
  • Contact libraries and/or archives that hold a large collection of the author’s work or private papers
  • Contact biographers or other scholars who specialise in the work of the author
  • Consult author’s directories in libraries
  • You may be able to trace a copyright holder via The WATCH database
Getting Permission

If you want to copy more than would be permitted under fair dealing or under the terms of a university-held licence, or if you want to use materials for something other than educational purposes, you can only do so with the permission of the copyright holder (if the work is in copyright). Determining the copyright status of an item and tracking down the copyright holder can take a considerable amount of time. You will firstly have to find out whether or not the item is still in copyright. (See the What is Covered? tab on the Copyright web page)

If the material is in copyright, you will need to locate and contact the copyright owner(s) to ask permission to use their work.

Blanket permisson

  • Check whether the copyright owner gives "blanket" permission for your intended use
  • If not, identify and locate the copyright owner (link to section above)
  • Contact the copyright owner and ask for permission for each intended usage of the copyright material
  • Beware! It may take some considerable time to receive a response to your request, so remember to factor this into your timetable. Lack of a response does NOT mean that you can go ahead and use the material.
  • When the copyright owner responds, consider whether their terms are acceptable. You may decide to try to negotiate more favourable terms. Once a mutually acceptable agreement is reached, you may go ahead and use the work as authorised.
  • Keep a note of all correspondence (including e-mail correspondence) relating to permissions.

The Strategic Content Alliance IPR Toolkit, particularly Section 3.1 Getting Permissions, gives some useful information.

Commercial Copies

Commercial copies may be supplied to employees of companies or other organisations who have provided research funding to the licensee in connection with the research project for which the funding was supplied. Provided any copying is within the terms stipulated by the CPDA 1988 and you do not have prior permission from the copyright holder you may:

  • Supply a single paper copy on the condition that it may not be further copied or reproduced.
  • A digital copy may only be opened once and a single paper copy printed out. (which may not itself be further copied) following which the digital copy must be deleted.
  • A copyright declaration must be attached to each paper or digital copy.