Unless your use of a work is fair use, or the work is in the public domain, or its use is otherwise specifically allowed under copyright law, you will need to get permission before using it. If, after conducting background research and due diligence, you are still uncertain about the copyright status of the work, you should err on the side of caution and seek permission.
Generally, the author of a work owns the copyright in the work. An exception is for "works for hire," which are works created by an employee within the scope of his or her duties. Copyrights for works for hire are owned by the employer. Copyrights may also be transferred through sale or otherwise. Though it is important to properly credit the source of a work, giving credit to an author will not substitute for getting authorization or paying royalties, if that is required.
While obtaining permission to use a copyrighted work might seem like a challenge, you have a wide array of resources at your disposal to assist you. The Internet, for example, offers dozens of sites to help you find holders of copyrights in dramatic works, musical compositions, fine and graphic art, photographs, films, and television and radio broadcasts. Many of these sites--as well as other resources to help you obtain permission from a copyright holder--can be found in the Copyright Guidelines for the Maricopa Community Colleges.
Page Updated 11/18/04