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Copyright and permissions

Copyright and permissions

All our publishing is subject to international copyright legislation to protect us and you. These FAQs introduce the main points that affect you when submitting your work to Sage. They focus on the legislation of the US and the UK, both of which meet the requirements of international copyright frameworks.

Your journal’s editor, or production editor at Sage, will be able to provide further guidance, and answer questions not covered below.


What are the main things I need to be aware of?

Only you can confirm that your article is your own work, or accurately credit any third-party content that you cite to avoid any potential issues with plagiarism or permission later. You will need to secure the permission to use any other authors’ work if we are to include it in your article, just as you would want to be credited if your content is included in someone else’s content.

I want to cite another author’s work. How do I go about this?

You will need to get permission to do so, usually by contacting the relevant publisher, and give a full credit for the source. Permissions are sometimes granted without fees, but any that are due need to be paid by you. Articles appear in both print and online versions, so permissions need to explicitly cover both formats.

Extracts of text, tables or illustrations are all protected by copyright and you’ll need permission to use them. Photographs or illustrations of identifiable people also need to be accompanied by a release form confirming that they give consent for their use.

Some good news: not all original content requires permission

If your use meets the requirements of the STM Permissions Guidelines, ‘Fair use’ (US), ‘Fair dealing (UK), or certain types of licenses (see below), then you may not need permission.

What are the ‘STM Permissions Guidelines’ and how can I use them?

The STM Permissions Guidelines are not limited to scientific, technical, and medical content. Many international publishers (including Sage) are signatories, and you’ll find guidance on the website for the permissions policies and contact details for each of them.

The guidelines allow signatory publishers (and their authors) to use small amounts of original content without payment of a fee. In some cases—where the publisher has ‘opted out’ of receiving notice—there is no need to request permission. Where the signatory has not opted out, the author should simply cite the guidelines when requesting use of the content from the publisher.

See STM Permissions Guidelines

What is ‘fair use’, and what does it cover?

It’s the Section 107 of the US Copyright Act in the US, and provides an exception to the exclusive rights of the copyright holder under certain circumstances. This may mean that you can include copyright material without the need for permission.

‘Fair use’ involves a four-factor analysis that considers:

1. the purpose and nature of the use

  • Where the purpose of the use is different from that of the original content, your argument will be stronger.
  • Reproducing an excerpt for the purpose of commentary, criticism, and discussion may be the basis for a fair use argument.

2. the nature of the original content

  • Text, photographs, illustrations, and figures are all subject to fair use, but generally the more creative the original work, the weaker your argument.

3. the amount of original content used in relation to the original work as a whole

  • You may only use the minimum amount of the original work needed. Examples: if a 200-word excerpt is adequate for your purpose, you should not include more; photographs should be reproduced in the minimum size necessary.

4. the effect the use will have on the market of the original work

  • A use that negatively affects the potential value of the original work, for example, by serving as a substitute or derivative, would weaken your argument.

If you are in any doubt as to whether you can use the material as ‘fair use’, you should clear permission, or leave the material out.

What is ‘fair dealing’, and what does it cover?

The UK’s Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 states that copyright will not be infringed by ‘fair dealing’ when citing original content for a particular purpose, but it does not provide a precise definition. It may mean that you can cite copyright material without the need for permission.

There are a number of purposes specified in UK law but the most relevant one for us is ‘Fair Dealing for Criticism, review and quotation.

The use of third-party material must be ‘Fair’. That means: not systematic or excessive and not conflicting with the rights of the copyright holder or affecting their ability to benefit from the work. There is no set amount of content allowed or forbidden.

You must always make proper acknowledgment of the original copyright work. Only work has that been previously published may be used.

What is ‘Criticism or review’?

  • It’s the context in which you can cite the content.
  • There is no legal definition of criticism or review but it’s likely that there would be a liberal interpretation by the Courts.
  • Including content as illustration or ‘window dressing’ is ruled out. Would your work still stand up without it? If so, it is unlikely to meet the criticism and review criteria.
  • Permission is always required if you wish to modify or make changes to third-party material.


You can use short quotations from a work, for criticism or review or other purposes (for example, a short quote at the beginning of an article or chapter).

The use of the quotation must still be ‘fair’ and you must use no more than is required for the specific purpose.

Again, only work that has been previously published can be used and must be accompanied by a proper acknowledgement.

If you are in any doubt as to whether or not you can use the content as ‘fair dealing’, you should clear permission, or leave it out.

Please note that this is Sage’s working view of a relatively untested area of the law.

How can I use content published under a Creative Commons license?

There are several types of Creative Commons licenses, so first check which covers the content you want to use.

Examples: the CC BY (also known as the Creative Commons Attribution license) only requires you to include attribution to the original work and its author. There are no other restrictions.

The Creative Commons Non-Commercial License (CC BY-NC) includes the additional restriction that any use of the content must be for non-commercial purposes only.

Please note that all CC licenses have strict attribution guidelines which, when not followed as required, void the license. Please be sure to include all required elements of the citation.

You can read more about the different Creative Commons licenses at:

For more information on open access at Sage please visit the open access pages.

How can I tell whether content is available under public domain?

You can freely use any content that is in the public domain. There are three main reasons why content won’t be subject to copyright:

  1. The copyright has expired
  2. The work was created by a US Federal Government employee in the course of their duties
  3. The author has chosen to place their work in the public domain.

The copyright has expired

In the US: A work’s copyright expires depending on when it was first published, and what laws were in effect at that time. This leads to a complicated approach to calculating expiration dates.  Each year more works enter the public domain and it can be difficult to determine if the work you are interested in using has expired.  Under current law, the copyright for content published after January 1, 1978 lasts for the life of the author, plus 70 years. This tool created by the American Library Association may be useful in helping to determine expiration dates.  

In the UK: copyright extends for 70 years after the author’s death. Note that films and sound recordings may have varying durations of copyright depending on when or if they were published and the number of people involved.

The work was created by a US Federal Government employee in the course of their duties

If all authors of a work are US Government employees (who created their content as part of their employment), then the content of the work is in the public domain.

If any one author is not a US Government employee, then the work as a whole will not be considered public domain. State government works are not necessarily public domain but may be.

The author has chosen to place their work in the public domain

This is rare, but the author will have included a statement in the work or applied a public domain license stating that they have relinquished any copyright rights. If using any of their content, you must still clearly attribute the author and clearly reference this statement.

Please be aware that new derivatives of a public domain work are themselves protected by copyright.  This means anyone can use general elements of the original work, but the manner in which those elements are expressed by someone else is protected. For example, a new recording of a work by Mozart or a film version of a Shakespeare play are protected derivatives of public domain works. The original content is in the public domain and can still be used, but the new version will not be.

Public domain works may contain content that is copyright protected or subject to personal or privacy rights and should be closely reviewed to rule out any possible infringements.

For more details visit Understanding Copyright and Copyrighted Government Works for public domain guidance in the US, and Public Domain: Duration - Copyright User for guidance in the UK.

Your journal’s editor, or your production editor at Sage, can also provide advice. You can locate the contact details for the editor and/or editorial office in the Journal’s Manuscript Submission Guidelines.

Is there any specific wording I should use in my letter requesting permission?

Yes, as we need permission for worldwide rights to reproduce in all media in all formats. Here’s a template permission letter to complete and forward to copyright holders.

When do I need to get permission to use photos or videos of people?

If you want to use a photographs, video, or audio recordings of identifiable people in your article, you will need their permission, unless an exception applies. Photos of children under 18 and all medical/health information are particularly sensitive and should always be cleared with a written release.

An individual’s expectation of privacy is protected under state law in the US, by the General Data Protection Regulation in the UK (GDPR), and equivalent legislation worldwide. Including a photograph without permission would breach that right.

For more information see For the public | ICO

Is there an audio-visual release form I can use?

If an individual is identifiable in any audio and/or visual material included in your Contribution, you may use Sage’s template release form to request permission.

Can I post my article online without permission from Sage?

Yes, please visit our Guidelines for Sage Authors for guidance on sharing and reusing your article.

How can I contact the Rights & Permissions department at Sage?

Please visit Journals Permissions.

 How may I reuse my article?

Please visit our Guidelines for Sage Authors.

 How can others reuse my article?

We handle all requests by third parties to reprint or reproduce your work—or part of it—in any format, on behalf of the journal proprietor. For more information, please visit Journals Permissions.