MIT Libraries logo MIT Libraries

MIT logo Search Contact

Copyright permissions policy

The MIT Libraries supports research, teaching, and scholarship to advance global knowledge and understanding. One way we facilitate scholarship and learning is by simplifying copyright permission. Please use our collections!

Permission is not required if the item is in the public domain, or if your use is fair use under US copyright law.

If MIT holds the copyright in the item and you feel your use exceeds fair use, we will grant permission in the vast majority of cases.  MIT’s permission is never required for academic reuses of figures, tables, and brief excerpts.

On this page:

I believe MIT holds the copyright, do I need MIT’s permission to publish, display, adapt, or otherwise use it?


If your use is a “fair use” under US copyright law or if the work is in the public domain, no permission is needed.

Please see the fair use FAQ question below for more guidance on determining if your use is a fair use, or for determining the public domain status of the work. Please note that the MIT Libraries cannot give legal advice on these topics, but we may be able to assist with information about specific collection items or point you to relevant resources. If your use is a fair use, you do not need to contact us for permission.

Permission for reuse of figures, tables, and brief excerpts

If your use is covered by fair use under US copyright law, MIT’s permission is never needed. In addition, through this policy, MIT grants permission (when needed) for academic reuses of figures, tables, and brief excerpts of MIT-copyrighted materials in the Libraries’ collections. Specifically, unless otherwise noted on a specific item or collection, MIT hereby grants nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free permission for reuse of figures, tables and brief excerpts of MIT-copyrighted works in the Libraries’ collections for scholarly and educational use. This permission applies only to content which is both held by the MIT libraries (for example, archival materials and visual materials held in Distinctive Collections) and for which MIT is the copyright holder. If the material you are using is in this category, you do not need to contact us for permission. If you’re unsure whether this permission applies, please contact  


How do I contact the MIT Libraries for permission?

If your use is not covered by fair use or the permission granted above, you can request permission by contacting

Other MIT Permission contacts

Lots of MIT content is not held by the Libraries and is therefore not covered by this policy. Many MIT entities handle their own permissions requests. The following contact information may be helpful for obtaining permission for non-Libraries’ content:


How do I tell if my use is a “fair use”?

Fair use exempts certain uses, including teaching, scholarship, research, criticism, commentary, and news reporting, from requiring copyright permission. Fair use is a flexible standard, which means it can adapt to new situations, but also that there are no black and white rules. The MIT Libraries cannot make a fair use determination for you; it is your responsibility to determine whether your use is fair. 

For guidelines on what uses qualify for the fair use exception, please see:


Do I need permission if the work is in the public domain?

The MIT Libraries does not claim to hold copyright to public domain materials that it reproduces and makes available. The Libraries may embed a statement, such as a No Copyright – US mark or a Creative Commons Public Domain Mark, in the metadata for digital reproductions to indicate that these materials are in the public domain. Even without such a mark, however, MIT does not assert copyright over public domain materials digitized by the Libraries. We also do not assert copyright ownership in metadata we create.

You may make free and open use of MIT-digitized public domain materials without having to request MIT’s permission to quote, reproduce, publish, or distribute them. For archival materials, we ask that you cite the MIT Libraries as the source of access to the materials according to the guidelines below, or by discipline-specific standards.


How do I tell if something is in the public domain?

The public domain refers to materials for which copyright protections have expired, or works that were ineligible for protection from the start. Public domain works do not need permission from anyone for use. 

Many excellent tools exist for determining whether a work is in the public domain. We recommend using Cornell’s chart, Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States, in combination with the Stanford Copyright Renewal Database, and the Samuelson Clinic “Is it in the Public Domain?” handbook. For a detailed discussion of determining public domain status, you may also be interested in this archived webinar.

The MIT Libraries cannot give you a legal determination of whether something is in the public domain. If you have questions about interpreting the copyright status of a particular collection item, however, you are welcome to contact us at


Do the MIT Libraries charge permission fees?

In general, the Libraries do not charge a permission fee for non-commercial uses. If you also need a scanned copy of the item, separate imaging fees may apply to cover the costs of imaging.

If you would like to publish the full text of a work in the Libraries’ collections we do not require a permission fee, but we will require that an open access version of your edition be made available (for example, by depositing a copy into an open repository under a Creative Commons license), which we would be happy to help facilitate. Please contact to inquire about details.


What do I do if I don’t know who the copyright holder is?

The MIT Libraries cannot grant or deny requests to publish materials for which a third party holds the copyright. You must contact the copyright holder or copyright holder’s estate directly to request permission if the intended use will exceed fair use.  

The following resources may help locate third-party copyright holder(s):

  • WATCH File: The WATCH File (Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders) is a database containing names and addresses of copyright holders or contact persons for authors and artists whose archives are housed, in whole or in part, in libraries and archives in North America and the United Kingdom.
  • U.S. Copyright Office: The U.S. Copyright Office maintains a public database for copyright information on all works registered with the U.S. Copyright Office after January 1, 1978.
  • University of Texas Libraries permission guide: A list of resources for getting permission, with a particular focus on resources for non-text media.

If you are not sure who the copyright holder is for a particular item, you can also contact We can check whether the Libraries have any information about the copyright holder. The Libraries make no representations about the accuracy or completeness of copyright ownership information in our collections.


I want to use a figure from an MIT thesis in my research.  Do I need MIT’s permission?

Copyright in MIT theses may be held by MIT or by the author of the thesis. The copyright holder is usually listed on the title page of the thesis. If MIT holds the copyright in the thesis, the permission granted in this policy (nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free permission for reuse of figures, tables and brief excerpts of MIT-copyrighted works in the Libraries’ collections for scholarly and educational use) applies, and no further permission is needed. We recommend that you save a copy of this page as documentation of MIT’s permission. Additionally, many MIT theses are released under a Creative Commons license, which allow many reuses. If the thesis author holds the copyright and has not applied a Creative Commons license to the thesis, then you must contact the author for permission requests. The MIT Libraries cannot provide contact information for thesis authors.


How should I credit the MIT Libraries?

Whenever using, quoting, and publishing, you should provide citations. For items held in special collections, this should include crediting the MIT Libraries. We suggest the following formats. Other citation styles required by a discipline-specific format are also welcome.


[Identification of the item], [Name and identification of the Collection], Massachusetts Institute of Technology, [Name of the MIT Libraries unit – e.g. Distinctive Collections], Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Manuscript or archival collections:

[Identification of item], [Date of Item], [Collection title], [Collection number], [Box number], [Folder number], [Folder title]. Department of Distinctive Collections, MIT Libraries, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Letter from Dean of the School of Engineering Gordon S. Brown Regarding the Appointment of William W. Seifert as Assistant Dean of Engineering, AC0069_196205_037. Department of Distinctive Collections, MIT Libraries, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

MIT theses:

[Author], [Title], MIT thesis, [year], [Degree], [Department]. Department of Distinctive Collections, MIT Libraries, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Available at [URI].


Shannon, C. E., “An algebra for theoretical genetics,” MIT thesis, 1940, Ph. D., Department of Mathematics. Department of Distinctive Collections, MIT Libraries, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Available at

Visual collections:

[Creator of the image], [Title], MIT Libraries, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Available at [URI].


Lee, Tunney. “Palazzetto dello Sport.” MIT Libraries, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Available at


Is there anything else I should consider when publishing, beyond copyright permission?

Gift or Donor Agreements

Archival materials may be subject to contractual restrictions agreed to in a gift or donor agreement. The Libraries reserves all right to grant or deny permission requests based on these limitations. We strive to make all collections as available as possible when receiving donations, but we also respect the privacy concerns of our donors. Access to physical materials in the MIT Libraries’ Distinctive Collections are governed by MIT records access policies and our reading room policies.

Permission restrictions on specific archival collections or materials can usually be found in the collection description. Any questions about specific materials can be asked by contacting


Privacy & Publicity Rights

Federal and state privacy and publicity laws may also apply to certain materials. While copyright laws protect intellectual property rights in the work, privacy and publicity laws protect the interests of the individuals who are the subject of the work. In general, a person’s right to privacy ends with his or her death, but publicity rights associated with the commercial value of that person’s name, image, or likeness may continue after death. You are responsible for addressing issues of privacy and publicity rights when publishing content from the MIT Libraries. For more information on privacy & publicity laws and rights, see the Digital Media Law Project page on privacy and publicity, or chapter 9 of Copyright & Cultural Institutions.


I’m considering donating something to the MIT archives, what permissions would apply?

The MIT Libraries Distinctive Collections is happy to discuss donations related to the work of MIT. Once your donation is received it will become part of the MIT Libraries’ collections, and this permissions policy will apply. If you have specific concerns about your donation we encourage you to discuss them with our staff during the donation process. If you would like to contact the MIT Libraries Distinctive Collections about a donation, please email


We gratefully acknowledge the UC Berkeley Library, whose Permissions Policies were an inspiration for ours.

Last revised July 2022