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Author Responsibilities and Copyright Guidelines

By their nature, these Guidelines were created to simplify complex legal issues and therefore may not reflect a fully accurate summary of the law applicable to all instances. They are not a substitute for qualified legal advice.

These guidelines have been adopted by Princeton University Press.
We have added certain recommendations.


1. Who is responsible for clearing permissions?

2. What if I cannot find the copyright owner, or get no response?

3. What types of works are protected by copyright?

4. Which works are in the public domain?

5. When can I apply fair use?

6. Do different types of works have different permissions considerations?

Cover Photographs and Advertising
Publications Written or Co-Written by You
Unpublished Material
Film: Publicity Stills, Frame Enlargements
Paraphrased or Summarized Material
Works Made for Hire

7. Do I need to be concerned about libel or privacy issues?

1. Who is responsible for clearing permissions?

You as author (or editor of a multi-author volume) are in general legally responsible for complying with copyright law. Thus you bear responsibility for clearing all permissions to reprint or reproduce material protected by copyright. Unless you are otherwise instructed by your publisher, the rights cleared in permission grants should match the set of publishing rights granted to your publisher in your contract. A standard request for permission includes nonexclusive English-language rights throughout the world, is valid for all printings of the hardcover and paperback editions, and includes the right to publish and/or license the material in the work as a whole for translation, book club, reprint, and electronic distribution. Please see the Sample Permission Request for Textual Material (.doc).

In general, you need permission to reproduce any work created by another person, unless it falls under the “fair use” provisions of copyright law or is in the public domain. You should provide your publisher with copies of all permission grants to use copyrighted material. For permission to reproduce all or part of a work, you should check the work to verify whether any other sources are cited. For example, in the case of a photograph in a book, you might begin by contacting the person or institution named in the credit line (in the photo caption or in a list at the front or the back of the book). If no other sources are listed, then you should begin your inquiries by contacting the publisher.

Reproduction of some works may require permission from two or more persons or organizations. Using a photograph of an artwork still covered by copyright will normally require permission from both the artist and the photographer. If your forthcoming book is to be published throughout the world, and you quote extensively from a work published in separate editions in the United States and Britain, you will likely need permission from both publishers.

The increased use of online research calls for particular care in determining who controls the copyright and in accurately citing sources for academic works.

2. What if I cannot find the copyright owner, or get no response?

Make every reasonable effort to contact all persons or organizations with a copyright claim on the work you wish to reproduce. Document your efforts to contact these sources. A copyright owner’s silence, even if you have given him or her a deadline, is not considered agreement. Failure to locate a copyright owner will leave you liable for copyright infringement, but a documented “good faith” effort can help to mitigate damages.

Websites for locating copyright holders can be found on the Helpful Online Resources page.

Princeton University Press’s recommendation regarding “good faith” effort:

Princeton Univ. considers a documented “good faith” effort to include all of the following criteria:

Written record of at least three attempts to contact the copyright owner
Reasonable lapse of time (4 weeks) between attempts
Confirmation that, to the best of your knowledge, you are attempting to contact the correct party

3. What types of works are protected by copyright?

U.S. copyright law applies to any original work created by a citizen or permanent resident of this country, whether published or unpublished, so long as it appears “fixed” in any medium (print, electronic, film, sound recording, etc.). Only the expression, not the ideas or facts as such conveyed by it, qualifies for copyright protection. There is a wide variety of forms copyrightable expression can take: poetry, fiction, scholarly writing, newspaper and magazine articles, letters, diaries, pamphlets, translations, advertisements, tables, graphs, maps, photographs, cartoons, paintings, sculptures, motion pictures, musical compositions, etc. Most works of foreign origin are also protected under U.S. law by virtue of the bilateral and international copyright treaties to which the United States has become a signatory; generally, then, you must also obtain permission to reproduce works created or published outside the United States.

4. Which works are in the public domain?

Works in the public domain may be used without permission. Whether a work is still protected by copyright or is “in the public domain” is governed by a complex set of laws. Anything first published in the United States prior to 1 January 1923 is in the public domain, and so is anything first published in the United States prior to 1 January 1964 for which copyright was not renewed. All works of the U.S. government of whatever type or medium are in the public domain. (State government documents or documents of foreign governments may be protected by copyright, however). These are distinct from publications and photographs in the possession of the U.S. government, such as items in the Library of Congress, and those held by the National Archives and Records Administration, which may or may not be in the public domain.

For more information about copyright term and the public domain in the United States, please see the Public Domain Chart.

Although you need not request permission to use material from public domain works, you should give full credit to the source.

5. When can I apply fair use?

U.S. copyright law allows authors to quote or paraphrase brief excerpts from a work protected by copyright without seeking permission, provided that they are making “fair use” of the excerpt. In scholarly writing, the use of short excerpts for the purposes of review, criticism, evidence, or evaluation is generally recognized as “fair use.” If you invoke “fair use,” you should transcribe accurately and give credit to your sources. You should not quote out of context; and keep in mind that proportion is more important than the absolute length of a quotation. You will also need to consider the relative importance or weight of an excerpt, which may contain the essence of a larger work. If you are confident that your proposed use of an excerpt is “fair use,” it is often better not to ask for permission. Consult with your editor if you have questions.

The present copyright law does not attempt to define the exact limits of the “fair use” of copyrighted works (for example, a fixed number of words). It does state, however, that in determining whether or not the use made of a work in any particular case is fair, the factors to be simultaneously considered include the following:

The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes and whether such use is “transformative”;
The nature of the copyrighted work;
The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
The effect of the use upon the existing or potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.
A quotation for purposes other than scholarship, comment, or criticism may not be considered “fair use” no matter how short the quotation or how small a portion of the work from which it is taken. You may need permission for an epigraph or other quotation used without comment from a work in copyright. Please also see the discussion of fair use for particular types of works in question #6.

The general principles of fair use apply also to unpublished materials, but the “nature of the copyrighted work” (Factor 2) as unpublished weighs against the use being a fair use. This may be especially true in the case of unpublished letters, where the copyright is held by the writer of the letter (or the estate of the writer) rather than by the recipient of the letter. Sometimes the copyright has been transferred to a library or archive, but you cannot assume that access to an unpublished letter or other work allows you to include that work in your book if the amount of material would otherwise exceed fair use.

The Fair Use Checklist may be of assistance in determining whether your intended use favors a fair use.

Princeton University Press’s recommendation regarding epigraphs:

As a publisher of scholarly works, we recommend that PUP authors consider assertive fair use for material quoted in the context of scholarly argument. While they can be useful, PUP does not consider epigraphs essential to a scholarly argument. Therefore, PUP recommends the author seek permission for chapter epigraphs taken from song lyrics, poems, and certainly from any unpublished material. PUP would recommend asserting fair use of short quotations for epigraphs from other published texts, especially from scholarly and nonfiction works.

6. Do different types of works have different permissions considerations?

These are general guidelines pertaining to materials still under copyright protection. If you have any questions, please consult your editor.

You will generally need permission (1) when you reproduce a complete unit (e.g., a letter, short story, article, essay, complete chapter or section of a book, map, chart, or other illustrative material) and (2) when you create a “derivative” work based on the work of another person (e.g., revising a translation or a figure, such as a graph, table, chart, or map). Some university presses also require permission (3) when you quote more than a small portion, especially of a short poem or a stanza of a long poem and (4) when you reprint more than two lines of song lyrics or music.


You will generally need permission from the photographer and in some cases the subjects (because of privacy or publicity rights). Obtaining a copy of an illustration is not the same as obtaining permission to use it; the latter usually must be sought in a second step apart from acquiring the photograph itself,. If the photograph is of a work of art that is itself still protected by copyright, you will need permission from the artist or artist’s heir(s) as well as the photographer. The photograph has a claim to copyright separate from the artwork itself. In addition, whether the artwork is copyrighted or in the public domain, the ability to obtain and use any photograph of it may require getting permission from the individual or institutional owner of the physical piece of art that controls access to it. Please see the Sample Permission Request for Illustrations (.doc).

Princeton University Press’s recommendation regarding fair use of images:

Again, as a scholarly publisher we recommend that PUP authors consider assertive fair use for material used in the context of scholarly argument. If you reproduce an image that is essential to the illustration and underpinning of your scholarly argument, and the image does not have any other complicating factors such as trademark or privacy rights, PUP recommends you consider a fair use of that image. On the other hand, if your work is not scholarly, or the argument and/or image is ancillary or decorative, then fair use would not be easily argued.

If a photograph shows one or more identifiable persons, you may need in limited circumstances to obtain a release from them, not because of copyright, but because of their rights of privacy and publicity, depending upon the nature of the photo and its intended use, and whether the individual is a public or private figure.

Cover Photographs and Advertising:

Of special concern are illustrations that will appear on the cover or jacket of a book. Permission for interior use often does not extend to use on the cover, which is deemed more commercial or promotional, and can entail, for example, an additional usage fee. For privacy/publicity reasons, you probably also need to have a written release to use the likeness of any identifiable person for illustrating the dust jacket or cover of your book. It is also important to have specific permission to use illustrations in promotion and advertising of the book, including electronic or online use.

Princeton University Press’s authors are not responsible for securing or clearing cover art.
This process is managed in-house at the Press.

Publications Written or Co-Written by You:

You must obtain either an assignment of copyright or nonexclusive permission from the publisher of any portion of your own work (in book or journal form) that you intend to include in your current book. Even if you are named in the copyright notice, the publisher may control publication rights, depending on the wording of the agreement you signed with the original publisher. If the publisher will not assign the copyright, request nonexclusive permission to reprint in all languages and all editions of your book. Publishers are usually quite accommodating on these requests and will likely grant permission for republication without a fee.

If the present version of your work is derived from a previously published version (as a revision or adaptation), you may need permission from the previous publisher, even if the changes are substantial. However, you do not need permission if the present work is based on the same subject as, but not duplicating the same expression of, the previously published work, unless you have signed an agreement with a non-compete clause that requires consent of the originating publisher.

Unpublished Material:

Unpublished material is controlled by the writer or his or her heirs or assigns; that is, people to whom control has been assigned by the writer’s will or by a contract. It is incumbent on you to make a reasonable search for the holder of copyright if that holder is not immediately known or available. Websites for locating copyright holders can be found on the Helpful Online Resources page.

A work created before 1978 and published before 1 January 2003 is protected for 70 years after the death of the author or until 31 December 2047, whichever term is longer. A work created before 1978 and not published by 31 December 2002 is protected for 70 years after the author’s death. Works created on or after 1 January 1978, whether published or not, are protected for the life of the author plus 70 years after the author’s death. Please see the Public Domain Chart.

Film: Publicity Stills, Frame Enlargements:

You may use frame enlargements and publicity stills (both from films and from television shows) when you can justify their inclusion in the work under “fair use” guidelines—for example, when it can be argued that the illustration serves as a quote from the filmic “text” to illustrate a point. If they are reproduced in a scholarly way—if, for example, in order to illustrate the discussion, details are reproduced from the photograph in black and white and reduced in size, when the original is in color—their use might be considered as fair. Be conservative in selecting material—if the still or frame illuminates a point you are making or is specifically discussed, then the use is probably a fair use. If it is just decorative, leave it out. Where possible, limit the number of frames reprinted from any one film and from different films that represent the work of one particular person (e.g., a director or actor). If you purchase material from a photo agency, read the conditions stated on the agreement (particularly the fine print) and on the back of the photo very carefully. In all cases, acknowledge the original copyright holder. For a more in-depth analysis of fair use as related to stills and frame enlargements, please see the Society for Film and Media Studies Fair Use Statement.


If you are quoting interview material, it is preferable to have a written interview release. The release should clearly state it covers publication. The wording of such releases should conform to any ethical guidelines that may be required by professional organizations in your field of study. In addition, if extensive material from the interview will be quoted, an assignment of copyright may be necessary. Depending on the subject matter, additional provisions for ensuring privacy or attribution may be needed. Please see the sample Interview Release (.doc).

Paraphrased or Summarized Material:

Permission need not be obtained for material that is not a direct quotation or a close paraphrase, but material summarized from another source should be clearly indicated as such depending in part on the various conventions that differ somewhat between academic and more trade publications. In instances where you credit the original source, it important to clearly demarcate the sourced material from your own statements. For an unusually extensive summary, paraphrase, or digest, especially if used for its own sake and not merely for criticism or illustration, the permission of the original author or publisher is needed

Works Made for Hire:

If you hire someone, such as a cartographer, photographer, or translator, to prepare materials for your book, you become the owner of the copyright in those materials, provided (1) both parties sign a written contract stating that the material is a “work made for hire,” (2) the material is produced at your request and at your expense, (3) the agreement is signed before work is commenced, and (4) the material falls into one of the statutory categories of works made for hire: maps, graphs, illustrations, indexes, translations, etc. A work is also “made for hire” if it is produced by an employee within the scope of his or her employment. If materials are made for you as work made for hire, you do not need permission, but as a courtesy you should usually provide the appropriate credit line or other acknowledgment. Sometimes a work made for hire is a derivative work, such as a photograph of a painting or a translation of a text. If the work from which it is derived (i.e., the painting or the original text) is in copyright, to publish the derivative work you need permission from the copyright owner of the original work.

7. Do I need to be concerned about libel or privacy issues in my manuscript?

Avoiding libel or invasion of privacy is part of the author’s responsibilities, covered by the author warranty and indemnification, and best addressed at the same stage that an author is assessing permission and copyright for his or her work. If your book contains any statement that might be grounds for a claim of invasion of privacy or a claim of libel, you may wish to seek legal advice and share that advice with your publisher, or provide supporting documentation to your publisher, such as newspaper articles or archival materials.

File updated: May 26, 2006

Princeton University Press

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