What is a Copyright Release?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 11 March 2020
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A copyright release is a document given to a person or organization that allows that party to use a piece of intellectual property that has been copyrighted. If a person or organization wants to use a piece of copyrighted intellectual property such as a photograph, song lyrics, or excerpt from a book, she must first obtain permission in the form of a copyright release. If she fails to do so and uses the piece of copyrighted intellectual property without gaining permission, she will be committing copyright infringement and may face penalties and lawsuits for doing so.

In order to gain a copyright release, one must first find out who owns the copyright. If a piece of intellectual property has been created by an independent artist, then the copyright release can usually be gained directly from the artist. If, on the other hand, a copyright is owned by a music label, museum, or publisher, then the organization or institution that owns the copyright must be contacted.


In some cases, a copyright release will not be extended to a party that applies for it. There are a number of reasons why this might happen. The person or organization that owns the copyright might not like the way that the party seeking the copyright intends use the intellectual property. An artist may decide that she does not want to have her painting used in a certain ad campaign. A music label may decide that it does not want the lyrics from one of the songs that they own to be printed in a certain kind of text.

There are a number of cases in which a person seeking a copyright release may have to pay a certain sum in order to receive permission to use a piece of intellectual property. If a poet translated a work from German to English and wanted to publish a volume of those translations, including the original text, she or her publisher would have to gain permission to print the original text. This permission might be contingent on a certain amount of money being paid up front or a share of the book royalties.

The language within a copyright release must be accurate in order to protect both parties. The actual release should be specific about the rights of both parties regarding the piece of intellectual property. It should also be clear about how and when the recipient of the release is permitted to use the intellectual property.


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