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Scholarly Publishing Toolkit

Scholarly communication support for authors and researchers, with information on Open Access and evaluating publishers.

Securing Permissions

Securing permission to use copyrighted materials in teaching can be quite different from seeking permission for use of copyrighted materials in writing and publishing.  This page focuses on permissions from a researcher's or author's perspective.

  • Need an introduction? Review through Columbia's Asking for Permission for help seeking permissions to use copyrighted works. It includes model letters for seeking permissions.
  • Find out more about Fair Use below.

Copyright Records

These records do not necessarily include information on copyright transfer, reassignment, etc., but they are a good starting point in that they capture registration of copyright for particular works.

Reusing Tables and Figures from Major Publishers

Several publishers allow UT researchers  "to use, with appropriate credit, figures, tables and brief excerpts … in the Authorized User’s own scientific, scholarly and educational works."  This means that UT researchers don't need to seek explicit permission to reuse these figures/tables in their own articles, chapters, or other scholarly works, as long as appropriate credit is given.  This language comes from the contracts or licenses that the Libraries have with the following publishers:

  • SAGE
  • Wiley-Blackwell

In 2008, several publishers agreed to "Guidelines for Quotation and Other Academic Uses of Excerpts from Journal Articles," from the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers and the Professional & Scholarly Publishing division of the Association of American Publishers.  These guidelines are more restrictive than the licenses identified above, and our licenses take precedence over these guidelines. 

The agreement allows academics (and academic institutions) to use two figures/tables from a journal article (or no more than five from a volume) without permission from the publisher, so long as the publisher is the copyright owner of those figures/tables, and that the use is for "scholarly comment or non-commercial research or educational use."  See the guidelines for full details.  The following publishers agreed to the 2008 guidelines:

  • American Chemical Society
  • BMJ Publishing Group Ltd
  • Elsevier
  • Institute of Physics
  • International Union of Crystallography
  • John Wiley & Sons (including Blackwell) [see the license language above for our agreement with Wiley]
  • Oxford University Press journals
  • Portland Press Limited
  • Royal Society of Chemistry
  • SAGE Publications [see the license language above for our agreement with SAGE]
  • Springer Science+Business Media
  • Taylor & Francis


Fair Use Analysis

Using excerpts, quotes, or images from another creator is important to analytical work. Many argue that such use constitutes "fair use."

There are four main factors to consider in fair use.  Crews & Buttler created the well-known fair use checklist, a helpful guide in understanding the significant factors of fair use.

The four factors to consider in the Crews & Buttler fair use analysis checklist:

  • What is the nature of the copyrighted work you want to use?  (Is it more creative or more factual? Creative works have a "thicker" copyright protection than factual works.)
  • What is the purpose of your use of the copyrighted work?*  (Is it for profit, for education, for commentary? Courts have found use for parody, commentary, and news reporting to be fair use.)
  • How much of the work do you want to use?  (Do you want to use all of it, a portion of it, the most important part of it? Even a small amount, if the most important part of the work, can disfavor fair use.)
  • How does your use potentially effect the market/sales of the work?**

*An important question in analyzing "purpose of the use" is to consider whether or not your use of a copyrighted work is "transformative."  If your use of a copyrighted work builds upon the work or changes it such that it becomes something distinctly new (a transformative rather than derivative use), then your use more strongly favors fair use.  An example of a transformative use might be taking something meant for entertainment and analyzing it critically while comparing it to other related work.

**In including images or other copyrighted work for educational or academic purposes, consider the minimum resolution level and size that are needed to make your case. If you are including copyrighted work as evidence for an argument, you probably do not need a high resolution file and a full-page duplication for the evidence to be effective. You may also want to include arrows, highlights, or other graphic overlays to bring attention to particular details in the work.

Fair Use: Caveats

Be sure to read the caveat on the checklist page, since "there is no magic formula; an arithmetic approach to the application of the four factors should not be used.  Depending on the specific facts of a case, it is possible that even if three of the factors would tend to favor a fair use finding, the fourth factor may be the most important one in that particular case, leading to a conclusion that the use may not be considered fair." 

Keep in mind that claiming fair use does not protect you from a challenge from the copyright owner. So, in addition to completing the checklist, it is recommended that you contact the copyright owner and keep a record of all such communications.  Keeping a record shows your efforts to work with the rights holder, and the resulting communication may contribute to your analysis of whether a use is fair. 

NB: If a copyright owner does not give you permission to use a work, this in no way preempts a finding of fair use.

If, after analysis, you consider your use to be a fair use, you can still use the work even if the copyright owner does not give you permission to use it. Note that this decision rests on you, not on the university or any other party. It should go without saying that, in all cases, be sure you give appropriate credit when using others' work.

Best Practices in Fair Use

There are a growing number of Best Practices in Fair Use documents from the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University in Washington, D.C. These documents codify practices that are generally considered fair use in documentary filmmaking, journalism, the visual arts, and other areas. 

  • The practices have been identified and reviewed by creators, practitioners, professional societies, and copyright experts. 
  • They are designed to help you decide if your particular use fits into the fair use norms of a discipline or practice. 

The images below are covers from just a small sample of the many best practices documents available from CMSI.



Free to Reuse with Credit

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Creative Commons License

You are free to reuse original material on this guide if you credit Rachel Caldwell and University of Tennessee Libraries; however, much of the information on this page comes from other sources. Check the permissions you need to reuse any material that comes from other sources.


The author of this page in not a lawyer and the information provided does not constitute legal advice.