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Copyright Essentials

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

  • Use of others' work--Are you using work created by someone else? Here are some examples: photographs, drawings, diagrams, or lengthy text excerpts. If so, you might need to get permission prior to submission.
  • Use of archival materials--You may need to check on any agreements or terms of use because these can affect what is publishable from those materials.
  • Use of culturally sensitive materials--This is an ethical consideration so you should think about whether your publication might lead to exploitation of resources, people, or knowledge.
  • Use of information about a living person--Consider the individual's privacy rights.
  • Your rights as an author--You are the copyright owner of your work but what does that mean? And what type of rights do you have for your work?
  • Embargos--Think about whether you wish to delay the release of your thesis/dissertation. There may be good reasons for such a delay. What are your options?

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

2. 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. Here is a good example of a permission-to-use letter and the University of Texas also has a good template to use
  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 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. A form for embargos is here


What about licensing your thesis or dissertation beyond fair use?

Other scholars can use your copyright 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. If interested, explore these options with your advisor.