Asking for Permission to use Someone Else's Materials
It happens sooner or later. I'm surfing the web and suddenly the COOLEST graphic I've ever seen just jumps out at me. Or I go to a page and a rare Pink Floyd midi file starts to play. My first reaction? Save it to disk! But later I go to put it on my web site and stop to think, 'If I had put a couple hours of my time into making this graphic, or sequencing this midi file myself, how would I feel if I found it on some other goober's web site?'
What does it mean to ask permission?
When should I ask permission?
Anytime you want to use someone else's materials. If you want to link to Disney World from your page with a small picture of Mickey Mouse you downloaded off their site, then you're using Disney's materials (the graphic of Mickey) and should get their permission to use it. If you're using their image tastefully and it's linked to their site, you should have no problem getting permission to use it.
How long does it take to get permission?
In both the Real World and Cyberspace, getting permission to use someone else's work is very commonplace. In less time than it will take you to read this page, you can send an E-mail to get permission to use most anything you download from the internet. The bulk of your time will be waiting for a reply from your request. You can expect to receive a reply in about a week (maybe less). If your request is going to someone who never checks their E-mail it could be a long wait.
If you don't get a reply in a week's time, send a second request (I've never had to wait longer than a week). If a second week goes by and there's still no reply, you have to ask yourself, 'Do I feel lucky?' Odds are, if your using someone else's materials tastefully and provide a reference or link to where you got it from then you can probably use it without any serious repercussion.
What is the correct way to ask permission?
There really is no set policy on this so here's how I would go about it..
Look for a policy!
Most larger site's will actually post a policy on using materials found on their web site. I have a legal page that says it's OK to use anything you find here at Dark Mountain.
Get an E-mail address.
Ninety-nine percent of the time this is going to be the firstname.lastname@example.org. If you can get a specific address, like the artist that made the graphic, or the musician who sequenced the midi file - contact them instead.
Write a short contact message.
The keyword here is short, two or three sentences is usually enough. All you need to include is your name, who you are, and why you're sending an E-mail. Here's an example.
My name is JJ Chandler, I'm the webmaster for Dark Mountain. I am E-mailing you to get permission to use one of your graphics on my web site.
Explain what materials you want to use.
The graphic I would like to use is called 'mickey.gif'. It is a small black and white picture of Mickey Mouse. I downloaded it from the following location -
Explain how you intend to use their materials.
If your going to use someone's materials as a link, tell them where the link is going (usually this will be their own homepage). Also include the address of the page you intend to use their materials on. If possible, post a sample page, but do not link to it until after you receive permission to do so. Here's another example.
I intend to use the graphic as a link to Disney's homepage from my site. I posted a sample of the graphic as it would appear on my site at the following URL -
Offer to link to their homepage.
There's a couple of reasons to do this. First and foremost, its just common courtesy. Second, someone somewhere spent a small portion of their own time making whatever material it is you want to use. If their material is so cool you want to use it on your own web site, don't you think they deserve some kind of compensation for their time and creativity? Third, any visitors to your site that are impressed by your background music or hot animated graphic will appreciate knowing where you got your materials. A link will give them a source for cool materials of their own.
What should I do when I can't reach anyone to get permission from?
You have to ask yourself two questions:
Am I using the materials in a manner that could lead to legal controversy?
I haven't seen or heard an image or sound file worth getting sued over. If you can't get permission to use something, it's probably best to just let it go. If, however, you absolutely must use it, evaluate how you're using the materials. If it's not on the same page as any profanity, pornography, or insults then you're probably safe. If, after evaluating your use of the materials and all my warnings you still want to use something without permission, proceed to question two.
Is it worth their time to sue me?
The truth is, copyright laws and the internet are still a little sketchy, it isn't worth Disney's time to chase down some teen who has a picture of Mickey Mouse on his homepage with the words 'Disney Sucks!' under it. But a large company like Coca-Cola using one of Disney's trademark cartoon characters without permission might see the inside of a courtroom.
What happens if they don't give me permission to use their materials?
You don't use them! You've already asked permission and, for whatever reason, the owner/creator doesn't want you to use their materials, so don't. The owner may want to keep their image unique to their site and not have it appearing all over the web. Or the creator of a midi file may want to keep his or her homepage's background music unique for the time being. Regardless of their motives, you have to respect their wishes.
If you went ahead and used someone else's materials because they never responded to your requests, you might get a reply months later that says you don't have permission to use their materials after its already been posted on your site. In this case you just have to respect the owner/creator's wishes and take their materials off your site.
Finally, don't send a second request! Your not going to change anybody's mind overnight. Odds are they won't even read it.