Byte Experts: Reusing Content 101 by Amy Ellis

Posted by rebekah on 16 January 2020, in Byte Experts, News

In this month's Byte Experts, we hear from Amy Ellis, Rights and Licensing Manager at Publishers' Licensing Services, as she shares her advice on getting permission to reuse content.

Reusing content 101

We live in a world where previously created works are constantly reused, remixed and reimagined to create new and innovative art and literature. What most people may not realise is that permission is needed in order to reuse and reproduce content without infringing copyright law. That includes getting permission for content produced and released for free, for charity, or even reusing your own work (if you’ve given a publisher exclusive publishing rights to your work).

My role as Rights and Licensing Manager at PLS is to help make the process of requesting permission as easy as possible, dispelling the myth that permissions are confusing, frustrating, and time consuming. 

When do you need permission to reuse content?

If you’re reusing content created or published by someone else, you will most likely need permission to do so from the rights holder of the work. 

Reuse can include quoting from a written work, reproducing images, performing a play, adapting a work, or translating a work into another language, to name a few types of reuse. I’ve seen published content being used in all kinds of ways: from quoting in academic texts and new novels to reinterpreting poems into modern dance performances and installation art. 

Top tip: For published works, the rights holder of the work is most likely the publisher (but could also be the author or the author’s agent). If you’re seeking permission, we recommend asking the publisher in the first instance, who can refer you on if the rights are held by someone else.

When do you NOT need permission to reuse content?

There are some instances where you don’t need to ask permission from the rights holder of a work to reuse it: 

  1. 1. The work is out of copyright 
  2. 2. The work is published under a Creative Commons Licence
  3. 3. The work is publisher under an Open Government Licence
  4. 4. A copyright exception applies

If you’re unsure about whether your reuse falls into one of these categories, the Intellectual Property Office website is an invaluable resource for copyright queries. They also run a help desk that can be reached via email and phone for enquires.

Top tip: If you’re reusing content covered by a Creative Commons Licence, remember to check that the licence allows for commercial use as not all CC licences allow commercial use.

How do you get permission from a publisher?

Getting permission to reuse content has historically been a labour intensive process for both those seeking permission and for the publishers responding to licensing requests. 

The process involves finding the right publisher to contact, the right person at that organisation, knowing what information to provide to the publisher, back and forth answering questions about how the work is to be reused, negotiating, and finally, where permission is being given, the publisher issues a licence and the requestor makes a payment for any fees due. This process is time consuming as well: we’ve seen wait times of up to six months for some publishers to respond to requests, which is at odds with the right-click world we now live in. 

As a response to this, PLS developed PLS Permissions Request, a free service powered by that is designed to help speed up the permissions process while making it more transparent. 

To make a request, search for the title or ISBN/ISSN of the work you want to reuse in PLSclear, fill in the bespoke Request Wizard permissions form, and submit the request. Your request is sent directly to the right permissions contact at the right publisher who can then respond to your request. Some publishers have even automated responses to requests so you may receive a response immediately. 

Top tip: I still recommend submitting your permission requests a few weeks in advance of your deadline. Some publishers have longer response times in order to check the rights they hold for titles and this also leaves some ‘wiggle room’ for negotiating over rights or the price of the licence. 

Making it easier

Since its release, PLSclear has become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for clearing permissions from publishers and is about to become even easier to use. PLS have been listening to feedback from authors and publishers about our system and we are updating and streamlining our Request Wizard permissions form (effective 10 February). The upgrade will simplify the questions, include more in context help, and an upgraded help section for additional guidance for new PLSclear users. Our goal is to make permissions accessible for anyone no matter how much knowledge they have of copyright or publishing. 

We also have a bank of author resources available now that includes answers to common questions we hear from authors and editorial teams, a checklist of the information you need to know before you can make a permission request, and a guide for using PLSclear. 

Top tip: If you need extra help, we run a friendly help desk out of our London offices from 9:00 – 17:00 Monday to Friday that is happy to help via phone or email. Our contact details can be found at



Amy is responsible for managing the growth of PLS Permissions service. She ensures the service is running smoothly for all users and stays in line with industry needs. She also contributes to the future development of PLSclear and PLS’s rights management initiatives.

She has a BA in Creative Writing from Longwood University in the USA and an MA in Digital Publishing from Oxford Brookes University. Her favourite book is “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt.

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