| Overview of PFA's Copyright Clearance Procedures
This procedural information about copyright
clearance should be relevant to the efforts of any organization
seeking to obtain permission to use copyrighted material,
particularly in nonprofit, library, and research environments.
Since the CineFiles database’s public launch in 1996,
it has offered access to public domain materials, as well
as to copyright-protected materials that we have permission
to display. Over the years, PFA has developed, tested, and
refined the procedures outlined below for requesting copyright
holders' permissions to provide online access to protected
materials. This procedural information about copyright clearance
should be relevant to the efforts of any organization seeking
to obtain permission to use copyrighted material, particularly
in nonprofit, library, and research environments.
This document describes strategies for identifying copyright
holders and researching contact information, as well as
resources available through the U.S. Copyright Office and
even corporate entities to assist in such matters. The process
developed by PFA involves using permissions packets whose
delivery and status are tracked in a database, and also,
importantly, making personal contact with identified copyright
holders which can greatly facilitate achieving permission
to display material. We present here several possible scenarios
that may arise in this process, and our responses, including
such challenges as difficulty in identifying actual copyright
holders, and resistance or refusal to permit display of
copyrighted materials. Also detailed here are the necessary
tasks involved in tracking and administering the permissions
process when many hundreds of documents and copyright holders
may be involved. Finally, we address the feasibility to
date of using various copyright-protecting technologies.
Identifying Copyright Holders
Our first step in obtaining copyright clearance is determining
to the best of our ability who, or what entity, holds copyright
to the document we wish to display. When the document's
source is a recognized publishing entity, such as a book
publisher, a magazine, or a newspaper, we begin with the
assumption that the publisher holds the copyright. We confirm,
clarify, or revise this assumption according to what we
learn in our initial contact with the entity we first assume
to be the document's source.
Documents that have ambiguous sources or are not cited must
be researched on a case-by-case basis. Basic clues may help
identify the origin of the document. For example,
the copyright permissions analyst might identify the typographic
style of a particular newspaper and verify publication of
the article in question using periodical indexes.
The analyst might identify the original producer of a film
to verify the source of press kits or souvenir materials,
and so on.
Researching Contact Information
Our next step in the permissions process is doing the research
necessary to establish the contact information (address,
phone number, and e-mail) for the assumed copyright holder.
We enter the obtained information in our digital rights
To facilitate workflow, we currently maintain digital rights
management data in two information systems. The first is
a Filemaker Pro database from which we produce permissions
packets and track in-progress actions on securing rights.
The second is the CineFiles database, a Sybase SQL relational
database, where a table is populated by migrating pertinent
data from the Filemaker Pro database at regular intervals.
Contact information research most often involves an Internet
search for an organization's website, where locating an
appropriate e-mail address and/or a phone number is usually
fairly straightforward. If necessary, we consult information
sources such as the masthead of a newpaper or the back of
a book's title page to help identify the publisher's full
name and address or location.
Researching U.S. Copyright Office Records
One can also use the services of the U.S. Copyright
Office to research the copyright status of a work.
Their records are open for inspection and search by the
public. In addition, the Copyright Office offers a record
search service at the hourly rate of seventy-five dollars for each hour or
fraction of an hour. For information on searching the Copyright
Office records concerning the copyright status or ownership
of a work, see Circular
22 "How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work,"
23, "The Copyright Card Catalog and the Online Files
of the Copyright Office." (These are available on the Copyright
Office website www.copyright.gov.)
Copyright Office records cataloged from January 1, 1978,
to the present are available for searching in machine-readable
form, including registration and renewal information and
recorded documents. This search feature is available on
the Copyright Office website cited above.
"How to Investigate the Copyright Status of the Work,"
Circular 22 published by the U.S. Copyright Office, offers
several cautionary pieces of information concerning the
limitations of copyright searches through their office.
For example, before 1978, unpublished works were entitled
to protection under common law without the need for registration.
For later works, registration can be made at any time during
a long period of twenty-eight years or more. For more information,
consult the publication and/or website.
Rights and Permissions Companies and Consultants
Organizations and companies exist whose business is
to clear copyright for use by various parties. One of the
largest among these is the Copyright Clearance Center, a
not-for-profit company established in 1978 at the suggestion
of Congress. The mission of this company is to provide copyright
owners and users of copyrighted materials with an efficient
means for the exchange of permissions and royalties. The
Copyright Clearance Center acts as an agent for thousands
of registered publishers and hundreds of thousands of authors
and creators. Information is found on their website, http://www.copyright.com/,
where a specific section addresses the needs of those in
academia and libraries.
Once we have determined the assumed copyright holder, our
next step is to make personal contact to request permission.
In the early years of this project we first contacted copyright
holders by simply mailing them permissions packets (described
below). However, we were not satisfied with the number of
signed permissions we were receiving relative to the number
of packages sent out. We therefore decided to change our
procedure and initially make personal contact with the copyright
holder, or someone in the copyright holder's organization,
prior to sending out the permissions packet. By doing this
we are able to confirm that the entity that we contact is
indeed the document's copyright holder. Furthermore, we
establish a relationship with a specific person to whom
we can address the permissions packet, thereby ensuring
that the package arrives in the hands of an appropriate
person who is already familiar with us and our project.
In this process we also identify a specific person we can
contact to follow up.
Our preferred method of initial contact is by telephone.
We explain our purpose and ask to speak to someone responsible
for copyright permissions. When we reach someone who will
discuss our request, we explain who we are and the nature
of our project. We try to learn about the organization's
policies in regard to making their material available online
in a research database.
PFA's Permission Packets
upon contact research, we compile customized "permissions
packets" that include a cover letter explaining who
we are, the nature of the CineFiles project, and the objective
of obtaining copyright permission. A permissions packet
also contains a list of the copyright holder's documents
currently in our database; a permission form for signature;
a self-addressed, stamped envelope for return of the signed
permission form; and a set of sample pages taken from the
CineFiles website showing the actual screens a researcher
would see when researching a given film title.
When we receive the copyright holder's signed permission
form, we enter this information in the Filemaker Pro digital
rights management database. We change the copyright holder's
status in our CineFiles database so that the copyright holder's
documents (and all their future documents if blanket permission
is given) are viewable by users of our CineFiles site on
the World Wide Web.
Three Common Scenarios
In attempting to contact copyright holders, it is common
to encounter the following three scenarios:
1. Further search for copyright holder
If persons contacted report that they are not the actual
copyright holders of the document or documents in question,
we try to learn as much as possible from them about who
actually is, or is likely to be, the copyright holder. We
proceed with this new contact as we did with the initial
one. We also change the information recorded in our digital
rights management databases.
2. Requesting, receiving, and documenting copyright
If persons contacted are indeed the copyright holders and
they feel they can grant permission, we ask for their mailing
address and tell them we will be sending them a permissions
packet. We then put together a permissions packet as described
above, using the Filemaker Pro database to create a personalized
standard cover letter, personalized permission form, and
mailing envelope. The person who makes phone contact also
composes and includes a second cover letter. This is simply
a friendly note with a brief recap of the phone conversation,
providing a direct phone number and e-mail address so they
can make direct contact with the PFA copyright permissions
analyst if they have questions.
The copyright permissions analyst keeps a detailed journal
of all conversations and actions taken concerning each copyright
holder. The phone conversation is dated and summarized.
The permissions packet is sent out and the date recorded.
We also make a calendar notation to contact the copyright
holder if no signed permission form has been received after
approximately one month. If a followup call is made, this
is also recorded, and another call is scheduled for a week
afterward, and so on.
The amount of time required to complete various tasks in
this process can vary significantly depending on the particular
case and nature of the copyright-holding organization or
entity. Individual authors have tended to respond more quickly
to our requests for permission, and in such instances, the
entire process can be completed in roughly forty-five minutes
of total time over a few weeks. In other cases, it can take
several weeks or even months to reach the appropriate person
who oversees copyright permissions in an organization, and
obtain a definitive response regarding the permission requested.
The total time needed to complete all steps of the process
may range from forty-five minutes to five or more hours.
When we receive the signed permission forms, the analyst
changes the CineFiles database to reflect the change in
the documents' status and to allow them to be displayed
to users online. The analyst updates the Filemaker Pro database,
noting that permission was given. The analyst also enters
statistical information about the time spent on each phase
of the process. The journal information recounting the interactions
with the copyright holder is pasted into a notes box in
the copyright holder's record.
In our experience, a successful permissions process typically
takes from one to three months and requires between one
to four hours of staff time.
3. Strategies in response to denial of copyright
If the copyright holders, in our initial phone conversation,
state that it is against their policy to grant permission,
or if it appears problematic in any way, we explore other
possibilities with them for providing access to their materials.
Some copyright holders archive their articles on their own
organization's website, in which case we can provide direct
links. It is important to ascertain whether the organization
maintains durable URLs, to avoid the problem of "ink
rot," or links that are no longer operative. We also
inquire about whether there are other means by which the
material can be accessed, such as a hosting website that
handles their material and charges a fee (for example dowjones.com
or ProQuest). We note such information in our Filemaker
Pro database for future reference. We include links
to publishers' general websites for convenience when they
are cited in CineFiles, but currently link to individual
articles only if the publisher hosts them at no charge.
Other Conclusions: Technology and Copyright Clearance
As part of this IMLS-funded
project, we hoped to learn more about how technology could
be used to allow access to organizations' materials, such
as tethering, password protection, protection from unauthorized
downloads, and subscription/registration requirements. However,
in practice it has become apparent in regard to these issues
that the vast majority of the copyright holders we have
contacted fall into one of two categories. Either they are
too small to be interested in exploring more sophisticated
alternatives available for limiting use of their copyrighted
material on the Web, or they are large and multileveled
bureaucracies whose legal departments do not allow for such
individualized solutions to displaying their material at
no charge. Although they may license materials to fee-based
electronic repositories, larger organizations may find it
more efficient to simply deny across the board all other
outside use of their organization's materials. However,
as demand for online access to copyright-protected documentation
continues to grow and as the digital environment matures,
it is inevitable that more copyright holders will be amenable
to a greater range of such technological solutions.