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Library Guide on Copyright Awareness for MOOCs

by NUS Libraries and NUS Office of Legal Affairs

Steps to Obtaining Permission

If you are copying for personal research/study, please make your own assessment of whether your use is considered fair use. 

Permission Seeking Protocol / Workflow for Clearance

Step 1: Make requests ASAP!

  1. Permissions can take a matter of weeks or months to arrange, so don’t do it last minute

Step 2: Identify the rights holder – who should you approach?

  1. For written works, check the copyright notice e.g. “© Jane Doe”
  2. If the person giving you permission is an employee of a business/organization, check that the person is authorized to give permission. If the business has a rights/permissions department, approach them first.
  3. If you are seeking permission from the author, ensure that they indeed retained copyright and did not assign it to the publisher.
  4. If you have difficulty identifying the copyright owner, please drop us a note at, we will endeavor to assist you

Step 3: Formally request permission to include item

  1. Verbal Permission Insufficient, Formal Written Permission Required
  2. A verbal agreement (e.g. in person or in a telephone conversation) may be quick and easy to obtain but is not ensuring
  3. It is always good practice to follow up in writing (e.g. via email) to document the exact scope of permission

Step 4: Keep records of all correspondence

  1. If there is ever a claim that you have infringed copyright, you will have documentary proof that you have already obtained permission 

Step 5: Repeat request if you haven’t heard anything

  1. You may need to send several reminders if you do not get a response to your message
  2. Do not assume that if you do not receive a response that you can go ahead

What if you are unsuccessful?  

  1. If you are unsuccessful in obtain permission, don’t despair, you may be able to find substitutes in OERs.


  1. Do not be tempted however, to use the material anyway and apply a disclaimer. This is still infringement. You may have seen words “the author / publisher has made every effort to contact rights holders for permission to use their material, but in the event of any omission, will happily make amends and update the publication at the earliest possible opportunity”
    1. In law this disclaimer has no force
    2. It is no more than a plea for leniency in the event of a claim

Essential details in a permissions request. 

Who. Introduce yourself and your institution e.g. “I am a lecturer at NUS and am currently creating a MOOC on [insert topic]”

What. Describe the copyrighted material you wish to use. If possible, provide a complete and accurate citation to the work with page numbers. If you are requesting permission to use images/video clips, you may need to provide copies of the work. An academic article may have pre-print, post-print and published version. Providing a complete and accurate citation also helps to determine if the requestee holds the copyright at all.

When. Do you plan to use the work for a certain time period or indefinitely? State in your email how long you intend to use the work for. 

Where. Are you copying for teaching purposes (e.g. to use in MOOC, public website). What is your purpose of making the work? Or are you making multiple copies for distribution? Or are you posting in on your website accessible by the public? However you intend to use it, be sure to specify.

Adapted from: Columbia University Libraries Permissions and Licensing by Dr. Kenneth D. Crews (formerly of Columbia University) under a CC BY 4.0 License

Sample Request Forms

The following pages contain links to sample request forms you can adapt when drafting your own permissions request. 

Note: You may have to scroll down the to the bottom of the relevant page(s) to find the link to the permission form.  

  1. Plays, Musicals and Live Music
  2. Architectural Works
  3. Audiotapes 
  4. Photographs 
  5. Video Use 
  6. Text Use 
  7. Material in Course Management System 
  8. Use in Thesis / Dissertation here

In response to a request to digitize and stream a video online (based on a real request, names have been changed for privacy):