Copyright permissions policy
The MIT Libraries encourages and supports research, teaching, and scholarship to advance global knowledge and understanding. One way the Libraries facilitate scholarship and learning is to simplify the Libraries’ policies around permissions and access to the Libraries’ collections to ensure that they are as open as possible.
The following chart summarizes whether you must obtain copyright permission from the rightsholder (which may be MIT) for content from within the Libraries’ collections (more detail is available in the sections following the chart):
status of work
|Permissions and/or fee requirements|
|Public domain works||No copyright permission is needed or provided. No fee is required to publish (note, however, that a fee may be required to obtain a high quality scan, if not already available).|
|Held by MIT Libraries, MIT owns copyright||MIT’s copyright permission is required to publish only if the researcher determines that the intended use exceeds fair use.
In addition, this policy constitutes permission from MIT to use figures, tables and brief excerpts for scholarly and educational use, without a fee, of items in the MIT Libraries’ collections when the copyright is also held by MIT.
In general, even when MIT’s permission is needed, the Libraries will not charge a permission fee for non-commercial uses. (A fee may be required to cover the costs of producing a high-quality scan.) If you would like to publish the full text or an entire edition of works 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 firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about details.
|Third party copyright||No permission from MIT is required or given. Copyright permission is required from third-party copyright holders if the researcher determines that the intended use exceeds fair use.|
The MIT Libraries does not claim to hold copyright in public domain materials that it digitally reproduces and makes openly available online. The Libraries may embed a statement, such as a RightsStatement.org No Copyright – US mark or a Creative Commons Public Domain Mark, in metadata for these digital reproductions to designate that these materials are in the public domain. Even absent inclusion of such a mark, however, this policy clarifies that MIT does not assert copyright over public domain materials digitized by the Libraries, or in the associated metadata.
As such, researchers may make free and open use of MIT-digitized public domain materials and accompanying metadata without having to request MIT’s permission to quote, reproduce, publish, or distribute them. Researchers are asked to attribute use of reproductions according to the guidelines below, or in accordance with discipline-specific standards.
Researchers seeking to quote from or reproduce any Libraries’ collection materials in researchers’ own publications or other public displays do not need copyright permission to make uses that constitute fair use under copyright law. (Fair use is described further below with links to resources.)
In addition to the above, unless otherwise noted on a specific item or collection, for works which are held in the MIT Libraries’ collections and for which MIT is also the copyright holder, MIT grants nonexclusive, worldwide, royalty-free permission for reuse of figures, tables and brief excerpts for scholarly and educational use. Please note that 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 you’re unsure whether this policy applies to a particular work, please contact email@example.com. For MIT content which is not held by the MIT Libraries, contact the MIT Technology Licensing Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If your use is not covered by either of the preceding paragraphs, permission can be requested by contacting email@example.com. In general, even when MIT’s permission is needed, the Libraries will not charge a permission fee for non-commercial uses. (A fee may be required to cover the costs of producing a high-quality scan.) If you would like to publish the full text or an entire edition of works 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 firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about details.
Researchers are solely responsible for determining the copyright status of any materials they may wish to use, making fair use determinations, investigating the owner(s) of the copyright and, where necessary according to the above chart, obtaining permission for the intended use.
Please also note that the information on this page applies to copyright permissions only, and does not include due diligence that researchers must conduct regarding other legal restrictions that may apply to the materials’ use and distribution (e.g. privacy and publicity rights; contract, donor and other restrictions). It is the researcher’s responsibility to assess permissible uses under all laws and conditions.
Researchers should also note that while the MIT Libraries generally does not charge copyright permission fees, a fee may be required in order to obtain a high quality scan of Libraries’ materials.
Whenever using, quoting, and publishing any materials from the Libraries’ collections, scholarly conventions require full source citation. The Libraries suggest the following format, or an equivalent format conforming to discipline-specific citation standards:
[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.
- Public domain. Public domain refers to works for which copyright protections have expired, or works that were ineligible for protection from the start. Public domain works are open for use with no permission needed. The Libraries will not make public domain determinations for researchers. For assistance in 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.
- Finding copyright holders. For help locating third-party copyright holder(s), the following resources may assist your investigation:
- WATCH File: The WATCH File (Writers, Artists, and Their Copyright Holders) is a database containing primarily the 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.
A researcher does not need a copyright holder’s permission to publish when the intended use is fair use because United States copyright law contains an exception for certain uses made for teaching, scholarship, research, criticism, commentary, and news reporting. Fair use is flexible, which means it can adapt to new situations, but also that there are no black and white rules. It is the researcher’s responsibility to determine whether the intended use is a fair use. The MIT Libraries cannot make a fair use determination for you.
For guidelines on what uses qualify for the fair use exception, please see:
Please keep in mind that there are several laws and policies outside of copyright that also affect publication permission.
- Gift or donor agreements: Requests to publish archival materials stewarded by the Libraries may be subject to gift or donor agreement limitations. The Libraries reserves all rights to grant and deny permission inquiries based on these limitations.
- Privacy & publicity rights: In addition, a researcher must also comply with applicable federal and state privacy and publicity laws when publishing certain materials. While copyright laws protect the copyright owner’s 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. It is a researcher’s sole responsibility for addressing issues of privacy and publicity rights when publishing content from Library materials. For more information on privacy & publicity laws and rights, see the Digital Media Law Project page on privacy and publicity.
We gratefully acknowledge the UC Berkeley Library, whose Permissions Policies were an inspiration and template for ours.