Getting permission

Permission Comic


Many publishers find that their biggest cost when converting from print to digital formats is the cost of acquiring new digital rights in order to re-publish content. This section looks at acquiring these rights for both traditional content such as illustrations, and less familiar areas such as technology.

We’ll first look at the things for which you will need to obtain rights. We’ll then look at some of the details and procedures you should be aware of.

Content for which you’ll need to obtain permission

Authors own all rights to the content they’ve created but authors, or their publishers (depending on the terms of their publishing agreements), will need to acquire digital rights from other rights holders if a work uses pictures, illustrations, or excerpts created by others. A lot of this will be familiar from the printed book world.

Less familiar, if you’re planning a so-called enhanced ebook, will be permissions associated with video and audiofonts and technology licensing.

Pictures, illustrations and excerpts

Here’s the first rule: Do not assume that, because you cleared rights for the printed book, you also hold them for any digital editions.

They are separate rights, just as you’d expect the ebook edition of a book to be a separate right. And even if the book is a novel without images, don’t forget about digital rights to the cover image.

If a work has been published in book form, you should first check the wording of any clearances obtained for others’ work. If they used wording such as the following, you should be covered by your original clearance:

I am requesting non-exclusive, worldwide rights for this edition of the work, as well as any future editions, including electronic versions.

You might chance your arm if you’ve used wording such as “any and all editions of the book” but this probably won’t stick in a serious legal challenge. A better wording would be:

“… any and all editions of the book in all media, formats and technology now known or later developed.”

Proper clearance of copyright for all elements of an ebook will be required as a condition of distribution. Some distributors allow problematic images to be blocked if you can’t locate the copyright holder or obtain all necessary rights to an image, but you’ll need to check this with each distributor.

When searching the internet for images to use in your ebooks, here are a couple of useful tips to ensure that you select images with appropriate usage rights:

1. Use stock photo libraries. Sites such as iStockPhoto ( and Dreamstime ( offer a huge range of professional images with good search tools to narrow down what you’re looking for. The images are sold with clear licensing terms, which typically cover print and digital, and are supplied on a royalty-free basis, meaning you pay once for the image with no on-going royalty payments.

2. Filter searches by licence types. Some image-search tools allow you to narrow your search so that it will only show results that match certain licence terms. Here are two examples:

  • Google Images. Access Google Images from the ‘Images’ tab above the Google search box. Click the Settings icon on the top right of the screen, then select Advanced Image Search. One of the options is ‘Usage Rights’, allowing you to select commercial and reuse options.
  • ( is the popular photo sharing site with millions of images, both amateur and professional. Click the Advanced Search link next to the search box where you can elect to see only images licensed under Creative Commons (CC) licences. More about CC licences below.


Even if you’re the creator – for example, you’re doing the filming or taping – you still have to get permission from the people and things you’re filming or recording. A couple of common contracts are a talent release and a location release. A person you are filming signs a talent release to grant you the right to use their image and voice. A location release grants you the right to film in a location and retain copyright of the footage.

Note that it’s not just the main subject who might have to sign a talent release. It can apply to anyone who is identifiable. You should also be aware that other copyrighted works can be captured in your video and might require permissions, such as images of photographs or musical soundtracks playing in the background while a subject is filmed.

Audio recordings

Audio recordings might also require a talent release. You’ll need permission to use music soundtracks, and even short sound clips such as a crowd cheering or a car starting will need copyright clearance if someone else made the recording. Things are further complicated because a recording might have more than one layer of copyright. For example, you’ll need a talent release from a person reading a poem and you’ll need separate permission from the poet or publisher for the poem itself.

The internet is a good source of stock video footage and audio clips but, as with images, you have to be careful about licensing. You can obtain stock video footage and audio tracks from commercial libraries such as iStockPhoto or from a variety of sources including film archives and museums, which may include out-of-copyright material or works licensed under Creative Commons.


If you want to use special fonts — fonts not available as part of the limited set found on most e-readers — you’ll need to embed font files in the ebook file.  In order to do this, you will have to obtain and, in the case of commercial fonts, pay for a special licence to distribute the fonts with the ebook.

You might already have purchased a licence to use these fonts for printed books but the digital licence will be separate. It will probably be levied on a per copy or per title basis which can become a significant cost.

It’s also likely that the licence terms will require the publisher to protect the distributed fonts from illegal copying. The EPUB format, for instance, supports a system called font obfuscation which is a kind of DRM for fonts.

Technology licensing

Another area that’s different from printed books is technology licensing. This shouldn’t be an issue with the majority of Kindle, EPUB, and PDF ebooks as they will be using technology that is freely usable. But it will come up if, for example, you hire an app developer or a technology service provider. You’ll need to agree upfront who owns the technology that you’re using, for example by specifying that the developer is working for you on a work for hire basis. Regardless of whether you paid for it, if you don’t own it, you’ll need an explicit licence to use it.

Conversion source files

If you use an ebook conversion service, you might find that they retain the so-called source files. These are intermediate files you might need in future to make changes or generate new formats. This is akin to a photographer retaining the negatives. You might not want them, or you might not find them useful, but you should clarify ownership so there’ll be no surprises later.


Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.


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