If you know who the copyright owner is, you may contact the owner directly. If you are not certain about the ownership or have other related questions, you may wish to request that the Copyright Office conduct a search of its records or you may search yourself. The Copyright Office can provide you with the information available in their records. A search of registrations, renewals, and recorded transfers of ownership made before 1978 requires a manual search of their files.
When it comes to fair use, the safest course is to get permission from the copyright owner before using copyrighted material. The U.S. Copyright Office cannot give this permission.
Copyright registrations made and documents recorded from 1978 to date are available for searching online. Search Copyright Information or you may also want to review the PDF file on How to Investigate Copyright Status document provided by the U.S. Copyright Office
The files on record for U.S. Copyright Law are many. To view the list of milestones throughout recent history: Taking the Mystery Out of Copyright
Dr. Kenneth D. Crews from Columbia University Libraries, director of the Copyright Advisory Office, breaks down the steps to obtaining permission for a copyright-protected documented in the following link: Columbia University Libraries: Copyright Advisory Office.
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