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Copyright FAQs

Who owns the copyright to my thesis?

The copyright to a thesis belongs to the student, according to the University's General Rules. As a condition of being awarded the degree, however, the student grants the University the non-exclusive right "to retain, use and distribute a limited number of copies of the thesis, together with the right to require its publication for archival use."

What if I have intellectual property in my thesis that is not covered by copyright (e.g., material that might be covered by patents, trademarks, etc.)?

Please refer to the Office of Technology Management's Policy for Withholding Graduate Theses from Publication.

How do I register my copyright?

You may register your copyright directly through the United States Copyright Office.

Am I required to register my copyright in order to deposit my thesis?

No. There are, however, certain benefits to registering your copyright. The U.S. Copyright Office provides a thorough explanation of these benefits (PDF).

Is there a way for me to retain my copyright when I submit an article for publication?

It could be possible for you to negotiate which rights you transfer to a publisher before you sign a publishing agreement. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has developed an author addendum that students may find useful in negotiating the rights that they transfer.

Is my use of previously copyrighted material considered "fair use?"

The Thesis Office does not advise students on what can or cannot be considered "fair use." Students are urged to consult the U.S. Copyright Office's explanation of "fair use." Students may find the following resources helpful in making their own determination--and documenting that determination--of whether permission is required for the use of previously copyrighted material in a thesis:

How do I know whether the material I'm using is protected by someone else's copyright?

Did you create the material? If not, you will need to identify the owner of the work's copyright and determine whether the work's copyright protection has expired. You may find the following publication of the U.S. Copyright Office helpful: "How to Investigate the Copyright Status of a Work." (PDF)

What if I created the material? Is it possible that I no longer own the copyright to my own work?

Yes. If your work has been published, you may have transferred the copyright to the publisher. Check your publishing agreement: if the publisher owns the copyright to your work, you will need to request permission to reprint it in your thesis and elsewhere.

Do you have a sample permission request letter?

Yes, a detailed example of the content that should be included in the permission request letter is provided on page 4 of A Student's Guide to Copyrights and Fair Use (PDF), a publication of the Office of Technology Management.