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Obtaining permission to use a copyrighted work
Copyright law dictates that purchasing a copy of a work, such as a book, scientific journal, magazine or a newspaper, does not give the buyer the right to make any copyright-sensitive use of that work (even though it gives the buyer the right to dispose of the purchased copy however she wants to) – meaning that, although the purchased copy may be read or otherwise enjoyed, and may be re-sold, given away or destroyed, the work embodied in the copy may not be reproduced, publicly performed or otherwise used within the scope of the copyright law.

In the case where a copyright-sensitive use needs to be made (such as a reproduction for business use), permission can usually be obtained:

  • directly from the rightsholder
  • from a third party organisation that has been authorized by the rightsholder to grant the permission on his or her behalf.

In some countries, that permission is granted by law (a “legal licence”) in exchange for a designated payment.

Fair dealing and fair use
While most countries specifically identify the exceptions and limitations to copyright that they have created, the United Kingdom and the United States have each created broad exceptions in their respective statutes.

In the United Kingdom and many of its former colonies (including Ireland, Canada, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand), the principle of “fair dealing” covers a substantial scope of uses where prior permission is not needed. The criteria for what is considered to be fair dealing are listed in the law in each of those countries, without mentioning every specific possible use. In the United States (and, more recently, Israel, Poland and possibly a few other countries), the concept of “fair use” covers certain uses that, on balance, are deemed not to impinge on the rights of the copyright holder sufficiently, and/or are deemed to serve a sufficiently important public-policy goal, that they are permitted without the authorization of the copyright holder. The factors assessed by a court to determine fair use are set forth in each country’s statute and case law.

Copyright and licensing information sources
Learn about organisations at the forefront of intellectual property and copyright from a global perspective.

  • European Commission – Copyright
  • International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations
  • WIPO – World Intellectual Property Organization

Learn more