How does one prove that that he or she has permission to copy (generic for reproduce, perform, display, and so forth) a copyrighted work? Must one have a signed document to that effect?

Any written document can serve to prove that permission to copy was received. A letter that is signed is great, but other writings can also establish proof. If one obtains permission over the telephone, sending a confirming follow-up memo to the copyright owner restating the permission that was granted over the telephone is useful. If permission to copy a work is received via e-mail, the e-mail should be printed and retained, or saved electronically.

The library wants to send out some long overdue reminders to let borrowers know that the maximum fine is only $2 per item, and encourage them to return the books. In order to attract their attention and set the tone, the library wants to use Shel Silverstein's "Overdues" poem (with its cartoon illustration) from A Light in the Attic. Shel Silverstein is deceased, so the 1981 copyright must have transferred to someone else. Does the library write the publisher? Can it give permission? Or will the publisher just provide the name and address of the copyright holder?

The estate of Silverstein will own the copyright if he still owned it at the time of his death; thus, the copyright may be owned by his spouse, children, other heirs, or someone else entirely to whom he bequeathed the copyright. It will last for 70 years after his death.

Or, prior to his death and even at the time of publication, Silver-stein may have transferred the copyright to the publisher. In either event, it is much easier to contact the publisher for permission rather than trying to locate heirs. Publishers know if they hold the rights while heirs often do not know. And if the publisher does not own the copyright, it may be able to help locate the heirs.

A liberal arts college is being asked to put digital copies of student theses on a server. If the theses contain copyrighted images, standardized tests, and the like, is permission needed? Or should access be by password only? Is there any disclaimer that the college should use if the theses are posted on the web?

Whether the theses are available on the open web or on a password-protected site makes considerable difference in this situation. In the print world, for published theses and dissertations, clearly student authors were required by the publisher to get permission to include copyrighted photographs and other materials. When the thesis or dissertation was held only in the degree granting institution's library collection, seldom did the student seek permission for incorporating copyrighted material since the thesis was not going to be published. Posting on the web, however, is a type of publication with one major differencethe college is the publisher, and a copyright holder is more likely to blame the college than the individual student for any infringement. Making theses available on a password-protected website is more akin to having the typewritten copies available only in the library. However, students and others who have the password can access the images and can download them, so the college should make some effort to discourage downloading.

While a disclaimer on the web might make college officials feel better, it is unlikely to have any legal effect. On the other hand, a notice on a password-protected site that users may not download images from the theses would be useful to alert them that downloading may be problematic and would show efforts to discourage infringement by users.

If the college decides that it does want to put theses on the web, then student authors should be charged with the responsibility of seeking permission for their use of copyrighted images and other materials.

A librarian in a public high school is often asked for help by students who are completing class research papers and projects. When a student uses an image from the Internet in a research paper, how can he seek permission if it cannot be determined who produced the image? Would use of an image from the Internet most likely be permitted under fair use if the use was only for a research paper for one course? To cite to the origin of the image, is the URL sufficient?

Actually, to include the image in a research paper that will be submitted only to the teacher likely is a fair use and the student would not be required to seek permission. If the paper is to be posted on a website or widely distributed, permission is necessary. Attribution is not a copyright issue, but crediting the photographer or copyright owner is a good thing to do. Including the URL tells someone where to find the photograph online, which is helpful to readers, but the attribution should be to the photographer (author).

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