Now that you know a bit about copyright, how can you tell if you need to seek permission? The answer is not very comforting: Every image, chart, or table should be considered to be suspect and you should ask the faculty members about where they obtained them.

To be able to ask for permission to use material, you have to know who owns the copyright. Sounds as if it should be simple, but oftentimes, it isn’t. Sometimes, the faculty member won’t remember where he or she found the material, or you may hear the dreaded “I found it on the Internet.” So, you may have to do some research. If the faculty member isn’t sure, Googling a phrase from the text or searching for the topic in Google and then selecting Images may be helpful. A note of caution: Many Web sites will do the same thing faculty does—include images or text that they don’t have permission to use—so just because you (finally) found it online somewhere doesn’t mean your search is over. For images, one indicator that a Web site may not own the copyright is if the images on the page appear inconsistent in style, color, or size, or if they are fuzzy, pixilated, or strangely cropped. It might be easier to locate another image or different text to use whose ownership is known.

If the faculty member obtained the image from a colleague or from a hospital or university database, determining copyright ownership can be tricky. The colleague or organization doesn’t necessarily own the copyright, so additional research may be required. And the colleague that your faculty member borrowed it from may have published it somewhere, meaning that he or she doesn’t own the copyright—but he or she may not realize that. Again, if you are not getting the answers you need about where the material came from, you might want to consider looking for a replacement.

Once you have finally located the copyright owner’s Web site, you’ll need to identify and follow their process for permissions requests. Many times there will be a link at the bottom of the Web page that says “Legal” or similar, or you can type “copyright” into the Web site’s search field. Many larger Web sites and journals now use a service called Copyright Clearance Center, which is generally easy to navigate.

When you request permission, be sure to consider all the ways that you will be using the material, and request permission for all of them. Are you just going to display it in a PowerPoint format? Are you going to print handouts that include images? Are you going to film the material or capture the audio and post or sell it online with the handouts? If so, what is your potential audience? Are you going to distribute a copy of the handouts on flash drive or CD-ROM? Remember to think about any of the ways that you might want to use the material in the future, too. That way, if you decide to repurpose the material later, you won’t have to go back and request additional permission.