Working with Copyright–Protected Materials in a Digital Environment






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 clearance
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 follow-up 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 clearance
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 "link 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, or ProQuest). We note such information in our Filemaker Pro database for future reference. We include links to publishers' general wwebsites for convenience when they are cited in CineFiles, but currently link to individual articles only if the publisher hosts them at no charge.