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SMU Libraries

Copyright Advisory

Find resources on copyright regulations in Singapore and learn more on making legal and ethical use of copyrighted works

Getting Permission


If copyright owners are not prominently noted in the copyright notice in the respective works, figuring out whom to ask can be a major undertaking. The following steps can assist to provide you with a systematic way to approach the task:

  1. Identify the author(s) and contact one or more of them
  2. Ask whether they own the copyright or whether the work was work for hire
  3. Ask whether they have conveyed away any of their rights, and if so, to whom

Orphan works and taking risks

If you can't identify authors (or their estates) or business owners, or can't successfully contact them, you probably have an "orphan work"  -- works for which a copyright owner cannot be found. Copying and redistribution of orphan works carry some risks as original authors may come out of the woods and and haul the user for infringement. 

Getting explicit permission

Explicit permission is required:

- When a work has an outright copyright protection

- When the work has not been licensed for your use, or current licenses purchased by your institution does not cover the work in question

- When your use does not fall under fair use or otherwise exempt from liability for infringement under copyright exceptions, you need permission. 

Getting permission can be difficult, but in some cases there are steps likely to yield results. The steps will vary depending on the type of work you need to use.

Copyright Clearance Center

If the work is part of a book or a journal article, check the Copyright Clearance Center ("CCC") first. The CCC offers electronic and photocopy based transactional (case-by-case) permission services, as well as a subscription license that covers typical institutional use of works for the classroom of all the works in the license repertoire. SMU libraries can advise you on this. If the work you want to use is registered with the CCC, you can get permission instantly for most materials. Often, a cost is involved.. If the work you would like to use is covered under the The Copyright Licensing and Administration Society of Singapore  (CLASS) license,  your use is covered within the terms of the license. You may check with the if you need more information.

Foreign collectives

The UK-based Copyright Licensing Agency ("CLA") offers a license for the creation, storage and exploitation of digital versions of existing print works in its repertoire. Canadian agency, Access Copyright, provides licenses for books, magazines, newspapers, and other publications.


The Motion Picture Licensing Corporation, is an independent copyright licensing service exclusively authorized by major Hollywood motion picture studios and independent producers to grant umbrella licenses to nonprofit groups and educational institutions, for public performance rights. SMU has acquired an MPLC license. Please see the SMU MPLC license for more information.


Contacting the Owner

If you know who the author and the publishers are, you can contact them directly. If you do not know who the publisher is, The Literary Marketplace (for books) or Ulrich's Web (for journals) may help you. 
Once you know whom to ask, writing a letter, calling or emailing are all appropriate ways to initiate contact.

Confirming authority to grant permission

Whenever it is unclear who the owner is, or if the owner is a legal entity of some kind (a business or organization), ensure that the person giving you permission is authorized to do so. For example, if you are negotiating with an author, question her about whether she retained copyright or whether she assigned it to her publisher. 

Written permission

Ideally, your permission should be in writing and should clearly describe the scope of what you are being permitted to do. 

If you receive oral permission, precisely describe what you want to do, and then document the conversation carefully. It is recommended that a confirming letter be sent to the owner, asking him or her to initial it and return it to you if it accurately reflects your agreement.

Copyright Crash Course, CC-BY, 

The use of electronic resources must comply with the Appropriate Use of Electronic Resources Policy and Singapore Management University Acceptable Use Policy