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Copyright & Fair Use

Resources about copyright and fair use.

Copyright of Thesis/Dissertation

How do I get copyright for my thesis/dissertation? As the author of a thesis or dissertation, you own the copyright to your work.  Under U.S. Copyright law, a creator of an "original work" created in a "fixed tangible medium" is immediately and automatically the copyright owner of the work, and your work is protected. 

Do I need to register my work with the U.S. Copyright Office?  As stated above, your thesis or dissertation is automatically protected under copyright.  However, there are some legal benefits to registering your copyright, particularly the right to collect damages in a successful infringement lawsuit.  Essentially, if at some point you might want to take legal action in order to protect your work, you should register it with the U.S. Copyright Office, part of the Library of Congress. 

How do I register my work?  In the course of this submission, you can request that ProQuest/UMI file for copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office on your behalf.  ProQuest charges a fee for this service; the fee includes the fee assessed by the U.S Copyright office.

       You can register for copyright of your final, approved version at Register a Copyright (US Copyright Office).  The Register tab is on left-side.

Tips for Graduate School Copyright Checklist

Obtaining copyright permission(s) as required by the Graduate School Checklist may seem tedious and perhaps unnecessary when an item is fully cited and credited to its original author--even if it is your own writing!  However, the increasing legal complexity abounds within copyright; past practices are no longer a reliable guide for current/evolving requirements. A sample letter is below.

  • Previously Published articles, materials--click here for a discussion from Duke University about published articles and ETD's
  • For surveys, instruments, tools, questionnaires
    • Many, many of these are long-standing, well-known within the discipline, and widely--publically--available through Google etc. however,  that does not mean these are within the public domain.  It is surprising how many developers/authors retained their copyright.
    • APA (American Psychological Association) publishes many, many journals and as such over the years, many scales etc. have been published within those journals.  APA has strict guidelines concerning copyright.  This APA site clearly states the elements which require permission for use.  Note along the right-hand side, are links to the permission forms--the MS Word document seems to work easily.
      •  Fill out the form; save that form (use 'save as').  Within the form is a link for email contact for permission.  Attach your saved form.  When permission is returned, save the correspondance as part of material for the Graduate School.
  • Images
    • This is an excellant resource--for instance, ARTstor provides 'upfront' permission/use for use of images found within their database, in theses/dissertations
    • Images through galleries and/or directly from artists need written permission; some gallery sites state their policy--look under 'terms of use' or 'permissions'.
  • Ownership/Copyright holder(s) of Published materials:
    • For books--carefully read the Copyright page or CIP: Cataloging-in-Print.  The publisher and contact information is listed; occasionally the copyright holder is also listed.
    • For journal articles-the rights and permissions signed by an author upon acceptance for publication can be quite varied.  Even if you are the author, you and/or your co-author(s) may/may not have retained all aspects of copyright. Permissions for use must be in your name.
      • The Copyright Clearance Center is efficient for starting.  Start with the search box in the middle of the page and simply follow along.  At some point there is generally an area that you may check 'use in a theses or dissertation'.  Be prepared--more than likely there will be a fee.
      • Another way to look for/obtain permission: find the article itself within the journal's online site.  There will be a link for permissions. If you need help locating the journal online site, contact your librarian or Milner's copyright officer.
    • Sometimes one can find the copyright holder within the U.S. Copyright Office
      • Although this site is for only "Works registered and documents recorded sine 1 January 1978" it is worth a try; often a hint to locating your author comes through information about the author's other works, records etc.
  • Work that you produced for an employer or on a grant--some of the 'issues':
      • You will need to doublecheck the terms of the grant such that your educational use--for your theses and/or dissertation--is allowed.  If you are unsure, can't find that particular clause within the grant language, etc. check with the grant provider and/or ISU--Research and Sponsored Programs (309)438-7913
      • Work produced while an employee--ISU or other--may be subject to policies/procedures under "work-for-hire" and/or Intellectual Property and as such will require exacting permissions.
        • "Work-for-hire" may apply even to a course syllabus


The information contained within this guide is for informational and instructional purposes only. It is not legal advice.

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Dallas Long, Dean of Milner Library, is the designated copyright agent for Illinois State University.