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Copyright Essentials

How copyright affects your thesis or dissertation

Prior to submitting your dissertation or thesis to the NMSU Graduate School, consider the following:

The Thesis Prayer by Jonathan Lin

"the thesis prayer" by jonolist is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Step-by-step approach to publishing your thesis or dissertation

1. Do you need permission?
Is what you are using protected by copyright? Aren't sure? For a list of what types of work that are typically considered protected by copyright, check the What is copyrighted list here.

You do not need permission if any one of the following is true:

  • The work is in the public domain
  • The copyright holder has provided you a license to use the work. For example, perhaps the creator has licensed the work's use through Creative Commons and your use falls within one of the allowable categories. 
  • You are relying on fair use.

2. If so, get permission from the copyright holder

If your work isn't in the public domain, or licensed to share, or fair use isn't applicable, then most likely you will need to seek permission to use the material. But how do you do that? 

First, keep in mind that getting permission can take a while so you should plan ahead

  1. Research and locate the copyright holder. Aren't sure how to do that? Ask for help
    • For a lot of publications, the publisher is the copyright holder but not always. Most publishers have copyright or permission to use sections on their websites. If they aren't the copyright holder, they will direct you to who is.
    • For photographs or films, often copyright holders use a third-party licensing system. They will grant you a license to use, usually for a fee. 
    • Sometimes two or more copyright holders are involved. For example, let's say you want to use an article or a book with photographs or drawings. The article and the images may belong to two different copyright holders.
  2. Ask, in writing, for permission. The Association of University Presses have several good examples of different types of permission to use letters and the University of Texas also has a good template to use. N.B. This link downloads as a .pdf and doesn't link directly to a website. 
  3.  Send the letter to the rights holder. Here are some elements you should include:
    • Description of the material you wish to use (e.g., title, author, page numbers)
    • A photocopy or a link to the material
    • How, why, and where you will the material.
  4. If you can't find the rights holder or if you don't receive a response...
    • Consider using other material or...
    • Consider using material that qualifies as a fair use and/or...
    • Contact for more help


3. Decide how to manage your copyright

What are your rights?
As the author of your thesis or dissertation, you have a long list of rights. You own the copyright to your work and make decisions on its use. When you deposit your thesis or dissertation with ProQuest, your work will be available full text to the NMSU community but others who wish to read it must purchase access through ProQuest. You will receive 10% of the profits. ProQuest retains non-exclusive rights to distribute your thesis or dissertation, meaning that you can make it available elsewhere at any time.

What about registering your copyright?
Your thesis or dissertation is automatically copyrighted once it is in a fixed, tangible medium. That is once your work is recorded, whether in print or in a computer file.

You don't need to register for copyright because copyright is implicit. Once your work is finalized, it is considered copyrighted. In some cases, you might want to further protect your work by registering it with the U.S. Copyright Office. Such formal registration provides very strong protection of your rights against infringers or plagiarists because registration is a public record that you are the owner and author. For an in-depth discussion of this topic, see Dr. Kenneth Crews Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis: Ownership, Fair Use, and Your Rights and Responsibilities.

What about putting an embargo on your thesis/dissertation?

There are some instances where you might want to consider requesting that your work be embargoed for up to two years. Here are a few examples: your work contains patentable rights, or you have ethical concerns, or your journal/book publisher has requested it. You should consult with your advisor about whether to request an embargo or not. Follow this link and choose your status (masters or doctoral) to find explanations and forms to request an and embargo. 

Want to know more about why you might want to embargo your thesis/dissertation? ProQuest has a handy guide that maps out considerations and possible actions.

What about licensing your thesis or dissertation beyond fair use?

Other scholars can use your copyrighted work for their research within the framework of fair use. But you can license your work beyond what is allowable under fair use with a Creative Commons license. These licenses are focused on broader access, varying in what usage is allowed, although these licenses are much more flexible than copyright law. Check out the Open Access Publishing PLUS guide prepared by ProQuest to explore options and be sure to ask your advisor for help.


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