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Copyright on Campus: Theses & Dissertations

Information and resource guide for those interested in how copyright affects teaching, learning, research, and scholarly publishing.

Publisher Policies

Students often receive mixed messages when it comes to including a published paper in a dissertation, or publishing from the dissertation beyond graduation. Both of these scenarios are common and familiar to publishers, but there might be specific guidelines or requirements such as:

  • Be transparent. Include a brief explanation when you submit your publication. More often, journals use plagiarism detection software; letting them know your work is out there and publicly available will help sidestep any questions.
  • Include a citation to the published work in your thesis or dissertation, and/or a citation to the thesis/dissertation in the resulting publication.
  • Specific rules for formatting.

Reusing Material

Theses and dissertations often use charts, graphs, images, and quotes from other journal articles, books, or websites. When doing this, be aware that most content is protected by copyright, though it's likely fine for you to use these materials if you can do one of the following:

  • Use public domain content. If you are including factual data presented in a straightforward way (e.g., a simple bar graph or pie chart showing the results of an experiment), it's very likely the figure does not meet the minimum threshold for creatively and is not protected by copyright.
  • Use openly licensed content. Open access journal articles and books, as well as other media labeled with a Creative Commons license, 
  • Decide your use is "fair." Fair use is a specific provision within U.S. Copyright Law that allows for limited use of in-copyright material without seeking permission. In general, quotations from the work of others should be no longer than is necessary to support the scholarly point you wish to make. In the case of images, you should be sure that the pictures you reproduce are closely tied to your research goals and are each made the subject of specific scholarly comment. More on fair use.
  • If you're not sure about relying on fair use, you can often seek permission. Most of the time, this means navigating to the publisher's website or a journal article page and finding a link to "rights" or "permissions." Many publishers allow graduate students to use content without charge, with the understanding that if you publish your work formally in future, you may need to obtain permission again and pay a fee. It's a good idea to get permission in writing, but even an email is sufficient.

From Dissertation to Publication - FAQ on Your Rights as Author

Who owns the copyright of a thesis or dissertation?

You do! The copyright of a thesis or dissertation belongs to you as the author. Under the U.S. Copyright Act, works are automatically copyrighted at the moment they are fixed in a tangible form, including residing on your computer's hard drive. You continue to own that copyright until you transfer it to another party.  A transfer of copyright must be in writing. If parts of a work have already been published and copyright in those other works was transferred to someone else (e.g. a publisher), copyright of those parts remains with whom it was transferred to.

Who owns copyright in work produced as part of a team or in a lab?

Whenever a group undertakes a project or research, it is best to have a discussion up front, including the faculty advisor or chair, to clarify how copyright, patents and other intellectual property will be managed and who will retain and manage rights for all portions of the project. Be sure to consider not only publications arising from the project, but also data sets, software, websites, user interfaces, specifications, and any other outputs. It is always best to make sure that faculty make clear to graduate students and others working for them how research outputs will be owned or used in order to avoid confusion. In circumstances where grant funds or University funding is significantly invested in the project or research, other ownership interests may be at play, which should be discussed and understood.

Do I need to register my copyright?

You do not need to register with the Copyright Office in order to enjoy copyright protection. Such protection is automatic, coming into effect at the moment a work is fixed in a tangible form. However, registration has certain advantages.  First, if your work is registered you have strong evidence that you are the author of the work and the owner of its copyright. Also, registration is necessary to enforce a copyright against an infringer or plagiarist. For full detail, read the U.S. Copyright Office circular "Copyright Basics". The benefits of registration are outlined on Page 7.

Registration can be completed online directly (for a fee of $45) through the Copyright Office website or through ProQuest (for a fee of $55) who will register the copyright for you and in your name.

Can I use previously published articles of my own in my work?

It depends. You will need to review the agreement you signed with the publisher of our previously published article. Most agreements require you to transfer your copyright to the publisher. If this is the case, you must request permission from the publisher to "reprint" the article as a chapter in your dissertation. However, some agreements specify that you retain the right to reprint the article in your dissertation. The chart below details several publishers' policies with respect to reusing your own previously published work in a thesis or dissertation; however, you should always review the terms of any agreement you signed.

Why do I have two publishing agreements to review and sign, and what do I need to understand about them?

University of Florida dissertations are distributed by both ProQuest/UMI and the UF Libraries. Both will make your work available and preserve it for the future (ProQuest through its Dissertations and Theses database and print sales if you choose to allow that, and the UF Libraries through its institutional repository, the IR@UF). In return for those services, both ProQuest and the UF Libraries require you to certify that the work is your own and that you are not infringing the rights of others. These agreements also provide a mechanism for all parties to recognize your rights as an author.  

Please note, by signing these agreements you still retain copyright, including the right to publish your work; the licenses you give to ProQuest/UMI and to the UF Libraries does not preclude publishing any part of your dissertation in another form or prevent you from transferring your copyright to some other party at a later date. A license is a permission you give to others to use your work in ways that would otherwise not be permitted by copyright law; they are not a transfer of your copyright.

The agreement with UF Libraries requires that you give a license to UF to put your dissertation in the IR@UF and distribute it in a way that allows other scholars to read it and use it for non-commercial purposes, as long as they do not make changes to your work and always give you credit. This license is designed to enable scholarship and to protect you from plagiarism. The agreement with ProQuest/UMI grants ProQuest the non-exclusive right to reproduce and disseminate your work according to the conditions you elect in the agreement, including whether to make your work available after a specified embargo period and whether to make it available open access. 

Both publishing agreements allow students to elect to make their dissertations available immediately or after a specific limited period of time known as an embargo. An embargo may be appropriate and desired when a student wants to allow time to explore publishing part of it in other forms, if the dissertation contains material for which a patent might be sought, or if it includes other sensitive or confidential information.

What is open access, and how does it apply to my thesis or dissertation?

Articles, books, theses and dissertations are said to be "open access" when they are "digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions." By making publications open access, the widest sharing of ideas and research results is made possible, which is generally done either by publishing in open access journals or depositing them in open access repositories such as PubMed Central, arXiv, or the IR@UF. University of Florida policy is for all new dissertations to be available open access through the IR@UF, either immediately or after an embargo period. 

Will journal or book publishers consider publishing my work if it is based on an open access thesis or dissertation?

Recent surveys show that a majority of journal editors and university presses would accept submissions of articles and book manuscripts that were based upon theses or dissertations, even if they are available in an open access repository. This is in part because most publishers consider theses and dissertations to be "student work" that will require substantial editing and revision before being published in article or book form. The chart below summarizes the policies of some publishers regarding the publication of new works from a thesis or dissertation.

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