The Library has worked with University Counsel, ICT, and others on campus to develop a guide to basic copyright and fair use issues. What follows are a few questions that are frequently asked by students writing theses and dissertations. For additional information about the law, please see the entire Copyright Essentials guide. Or, if you have a question that isn't addressed here, please feel free to contact the Library's copyright team using the contact information below.
What is the difference between copyright and plagiarism?
Both issues involve using someone else's work, but they are actually quite different.
Plagiarism involves using someone else's words, images, ideas, etc. without giving them credit. Plagiarism is not illegal, though it is taken very seriously by educational institutions, including NMSU, and the academic penalties may be severe. See the NMSU Library's guide, Plagiarism: What it is and how to avoid it for more information at http://lib.nmsu.edu/plagiarism.
Copyright involves using someone else's work without permission and without a specific legal exemption such as fair use. Although it is a good idea to give credit to the copyright holder, that alone will not protect you from an infringement complaint. Copyright is a part of federal law and anyone found guilty of copyright infringement may be subject to legal penalties. In addition, NMSU students, faculty, and staff may also be subject to University disciplinary action.
Should I register my thesis or dissertation with the U.S. Copyright Office?
It depends. Remember that copyright law protects an original work automatically as soon as it is fixed it in a tangible form (saved to a file, printed, etc.). Because of this, you enjoy copyright protection without any need for formalities such as copyright registration.
Copyright registration can be advantageous in some cases. If you think it is likely that others may infringe on your work and you wish to have the right to sue for damages, it is a good idea to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. If your work is registered, it is much more difficult for someone else to make a claim that they were not able to determine that the work was copyrighted.
For more information about registering your copyright, see: http://www.copyright.gov/register. We also recommend the guide, Copyright Law & Your Dissertation: New Media, New Rights, and Your Dissertation by law professor and copyright expert Kenneth Crews: http://www.umi.com/en-US/products/dissertations/copyright/.
For students who are depositing their dissertation with ProQuest/UMI, it is possible to have that company register your copyright. The ProQuest website provides more information on this service: http://www.proquest.com/en-US/products/dissertations/submitted_authors.shtml.
I am using someone else's model in my dissertation. Do I have to get permission to do this or is it a fair use?
We recommend that you conduct a four-factor test of your specific use, but keep in mind that your dissertation is a publication that will be made available by ProQuest/UMI--a vendor responsible for the Dissertation Abstracts database and one that also sells dissertations and provides royalty payments to authors. ProQuest/UMI states that they will hold authors responsible for securing all appropriate permissions. Their guide, Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis provides examples of the types of materials for which they generally expect you to obtain permission before using in your dissertation: http://www.proquest.com/assets/downloads/products/UMI_CopyrightGuide.pdf . If you have reviewed the general information, but would like more specific guidance, contact ProQuest/UMI: http://www.proquest.com/en-US/support/contact.shtml.
For additional information and more in-depth analysis, please consult the guide, Copyright Law & Your Dissertation: New Media, New Rights, and Your Dissertation by law professor and copyright expert Kenneth Crews. This guide is available on the UMI site: http://www.umi.com/en-US/products/dissertations/copyright/.