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How To Get Permission To Record A Copyrighted Book

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

January 30, 2012

Comments (11)

Mother reading with her young daughter, smiling, book opened on the floorIf you came across a book that you wanted to narrate that is still under copyright, who would you contact for permission to record?

After an open discussion via Facebook, two recommendations emerged for who to contact first when obtaining permission for recording a copyrighted work.

Hear what audiobook narrators are saying and discover tips for how you can embark on this journey in today's VOX Daily.

Recording Books

Every now and then I come across some wonderful books that are just crying out to be narrated. After scouting for audio versions on sites like Audible or Amazon, inevitably I find that some of the books have not been recorded as of yet.

Maybe you've done the same thing.

When you realize that an opportunity is waiting in the wings for you to record, what do you do? Who do you ask?

There are a couple of camps regarding who to approach first to inquire about recording an audio version of a book whose copyright is still in effect: either the publisher or the author. Ultimately it is the person who holds the rights to the audio.

Contacting The Publisher First

Narrator Diane Havens correctly pointed out that the right person to contact is ultimately the one who holds the rights to the audio. She shared, "Depends who holds the rights by contract -- could be the publisher or the author -- or in some cases it could be someone else entirely who bought the rights. This is as I understand it, but I'm not a copyright attorney, of course. The copyright on the book is the print copyright. Rights to audio and other versions of the book you'd have to investigate with the publisher. So I'd start with them."

Fellow audiobook narrator, Tavia Gilbert, recommended that narrators start with the publisher. Markham Anderson agreed, citing that publishers usually have all rights reserved.

Trish McFerran commented, "Copyright can be held over published or unpublished works. If it's a published work it would also depend on when it was published, whether the work has passed into public domain and whether it is a singular or a collective work. Copyright is granted to and essentially protects the author, however, the author can release the copyright to a third party. Since there are so many variables and a publisher generally 'represents' the work then I'd start the ball rolling with the publisher, who would probably be easier to make contact with anyway."


Karen Commins has gone a different route, stating "For what it's worth, I have approached several authors. I preferred to start that way because the authors were much easier to find than the person managing the rights at one of the big publishers. I also felt that the authors also were more interested in answering my questions. I knew one still owned the audio rights because I found an article about her book. Another author knew she still owned the rights and is intent on narrating the book herself. Also, I hope an author might be my champion in the casting process in those cases where the publisher owns the audio rights. One more thing -- a literary agent told me that you probably have to pay the author for audio rights. The authors I have contacted also wanted to know my plans for packaging (if on CD) and distribution of the finished audiobook."

Frank Baum noted, "These days more authors do seem to be reserving audio rights. I have contacted both with well chosen script performance demonstrating why I thought a currently rights protected book could benefit from a new or second production. I've gone from 'looking for a gig' to coffee shop pleasure of discussing how good it all can be."

What's Worked For You?

If you have had an experience in this area, be sure to comment and share your story!

Best wishes,


©iStockphoto.com/Damir Cudic

Related Topics: Amazon, how to, reading


    what if the author is dead ?

    Posted by:
    • Anonymous
    • February 26, 2012 7:09 PM

      Hi there,

      Thank you for your question. If the author is dead and the copyright is still active, seek permission from the publisher. If the publisher isn't the owner of the rights, they will know who is and may direct you to the appropriate person.

      I hope that helps!

      Best wishes,


      Posted by:


        What about the ones that have anonymous?

        Thank you

        Posted by:
        • Susana
        • November 2, 2013 9:47 PM

          Hi Susana,

          Thank you for your comment and question.

          That's a good point. Does anyone know how best to find a copyright holder who may have opted to remain anonymous?

          Thank you,

          Posted by:

            What if you make an audiobook of something in the public domain. For example, 'The Science of Being Great' and put it up on YouTube?

            Posted by:

              My daughter wants to read and record books for a blind school. If the reading is for a charity are permissions still required and if yes, how do we go about getting them from so many authors/publishers in a short period of time?

              Posted by:
              • Vandana
              • January 1, 2014 6:58 AM

                Hi Vandana,

                Thank you very much for your comment and question! I hope my reply finds you well.

                From what I understand, reading the books would be fine without having to ask for permission but recording them is different. I would check with the publisher first if you want to make a recording and explain how the audio would be used, how many people would hear it and so on. Having written permission (an email would also suffice) to record for the purposes you wish to is important.

                If the content is in the Public Domain (meaning its copyright has expired), however, you do not need to ask for permission to record the book.

                Take care,

                Posted by:

                  Hi Stephanie

                  I own a sound studio and am wanting to approach local publishers to purchase the audio rights to their books (I'm based in South Africa). Once the rights have been purchased, would I collect all the royalties on all downloads from retailers after their commission? (Audible, etc.). I.e. The publisher/author wouldn't have any claim to money made from selling the audiobook?

                  Many Thanks!

                  Posted by:
                  • Devon
                  • July 22, 2014 10:39 AM

                    Hi Devon,

                    Thank you for reading and for your question! I'm not the expert in that area so I would follow up with the folks at Audible on how that works.

                    I hope you're well and that business is good!

                    Take care,

                    Posted by:

                      From what I've been seeing with regards to the rights question is that most right holders would split the cost 50/50 through the audible/amazon acx program. I don't know about how other sellers work in this case though. So if you own the rights to both the book and the audio recording entirely you would earn all the royalties the distributors would pay you. If you only own the rights to the audio recording you may still be subject to only 50 percent of royalties. Again you should verify this with the various distributors as they have various agreements depending on the company with regards to the combination of the written and audio versions.

                      Posted by:
                      • Greg Lim
                      • October 29, 2014 5:14 AM

                        iam thinking to start a audiobook channel in youtube in my local language. is there any prcedure to get permission from a publisher,
                        approximatley how much it cost for a book

                        Posted by:
                        • muniraju
                        • August 17, 2015 8:10 AM

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