Incorporating Copyrighted Content in Theses/Dissertations

You should assume that anything produced by someone other than yourself is protected by copyright unless you determine otherwise (e.g. determine that the term of copyright protection has expired and the work is in the public domain). The types of works protected by copyright include books, articles, newspapers, photographs, music, movies, software, and even things you find on the internet.

Use of works protected by copyright in your dissertation or thesis will need either permission or a fair use justification. Fair use is an exception to the copyright holder’s exclusive rights. In order to use copyrighted works under a claim of fair use, the following factors must be weighed: (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for non-profit educational purposes; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Fair use provides an indispensable opportunity for scholarship, since so much of research involves building upon the insights of others. Quotations from other writers are a regular part of most scholarship and are generally consider a classic example of fair use. There is no exact rule about how much one may quote and remain within the boundaries of fair use. Various guidelines that offer specific numbers of words or lines are advisory and do not have the force of law. In general, quotations from the work of others should be no longer than is necessary to support the scholarly point you wish to make. When you are subjecting the quoted material to scholarly criticism or comment, you have more leeway for fair use than in many other situations, but you should be sure that you do not use more of someone else’s work than is necessary for the argument that you are making in your own thesis/dissertation.

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. If you use a large number of copyright-protected images by a single artist, or in some other way threaten to supersede the market for the original works, it is wise to seek permission. If you have flexibility in the final selection of your images, search for images that are 1) in the public domain, or 2) made available for reuse via a Creative Commons license. Such images can be incorporated into your dissertation without permission or concern for fair use.

Finally, remember to always provide proper attribution to the sources of the works you incorporate into your thesis or dissertation. Proper attribution is absolutely required; that’s a part of academic integrity and good scholarship. Copyright permission, if necessary, is an entirely separate matter and does not obviate the need for attribution.

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 $35) 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.

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 DukeSpace. Duke graduate school policy is for all new dissertations to be available open access through DukeSpace, either immediately or after an embargo period. More information about how to deposit can be found on the Duke ScholarWorks and Graduate School sites.

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.

Publisher Policies on Reuse of Articles in Dissertations and Publication of Content within Dissertations

The table below summarizes selected publisher policies on student reuse of their own previously published works as well as the policies on publishing portions of a thesis or dissertation as an article. It was developed by University of Florida Libraries based on their research and correspondence with various publishers.

Publisher Student Reuse of Own Previously Published Articles Publication of Thesis/Dissertation Content
AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) VARIES. AAAS permits the use of content published in its journals Science, Science Technical Medicine, and Science Signaling, but only provided certain criteria are met, including that the dissertation will not be electronically distributed. For the full list of criteria for reuse of a previously published article, see AAAS policy – scroll down to “Using AAAS Material in a Thesis or Dissertation”. Distribution of your dissertation or thesis openly online through a repository or other web site may be considered prior publication (See Editorial Policies).
AIP (American Institute of Physics) ALLOWED. AIP permits authors to include their published articles in a thesis or dissertation. It is understood that the thesis or dissertation may be published in print and/or electronic form and offered for sale, as well as included in a university’s repository. Formal permission from AIP is not needed. If the university requires written permission, AIP is happy to supply it. ALLOWED. (Per June 2014 email from publisher, inclusion of an article in a thesis or dissertation does not prevent the work from being submitted for publication in an AIP journal.)
ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) ALLOWEDAuthors can include partial or complete papers of their own (and no fee is expected) in a dissertation as long as citations and DOI pointers to the Versions of Record in the ACM Digital Library are included. ALLOWED. See ACM policy on previously published works.
ACS (American Chemical Society) ALLOWED. Per ACS policy, prior to including a previously published work, student authors should secure written confirmation from the respective ACS journal editor(s). Appropriate citation of the published article must be made. If the thesis or dissertation to be published is in electronic format, a direct link to the published article must also be included.

View ACS policy for additional information regarding the use of submitted but unpublished articles.

VARIES. Each ACS journal has a policy about accepting for publication previously published works. Please check with the individual journal for their policy on publishing from a dissertation or thesis.
Elsevier ALLOWED. Theses and dissertations that contain embedded published journal articles as part of the formal submission is permissible and may be posted publicly by the university provided that DOI links back to the formal publication on Science Direct are also included. View Elsevier policy. ALLOWED. Per Elsevier policy, “where a paper was originally authored as a thesis or dissertation, this is not generally viewed by as prior publication.” See this FAQ.
IEEE ALLOWED. Refer to IEEE FAQ on Permissions to Reuse Works for details on what steps must be followed and what information must be included for a student to reuse a published article in a thesis or dissertation. Waiting for publisher verification of policy
Nature ALLOWED. View Nature policy for citation requirement. ALLOWED. “The Nature journals are happy to consider submissions containing material that has previously formed part of a PhD or other academic thesis which has been published according to the requirements of the institution awarding the qualification.”
Oxford University Press ALLOWED. Authors retain the right to reuse their own article in their dissertation or thesis provided there is no commercial reuse. Commercial reuse required permission. See Oxford policy. VARIES. Please check with the individual Oxford journal for policy as to whether availability of a dissertation or thesis online is considered prior publication
SAGE ALLOWED. Authors may only include one of their articles published with SAGE in their dissertation or thesis. See SAGE policy. NOT ALLOWED If your dissertation or thesis is openly available in the institutional repository, it it is considered prior publication and may not be submitted for consideration by SAGE. See policy for more information.
Springer ALLOWED. With permission requested through RightsLink. See Springer web site for more information. VARIES. Each Springer journal has a policy about accepting for publication previously published works.
Taylor & Francis ALLOWED. Authors may include their article in their dissertation or thesis provided a link back to the version of record is included. View Taylor & Francis policy. VARIES. Taylor & Francis provides explicit guidance to authors on how to publish their thesis or dissertation as a book or article. See this guide for more information.
Wiley VARIESAuthor re-use rights vary between journals. Please refer to the copyright form you have signed with a particular journal to review the applicable re-use rights. ALLOWED. Per June 2014 email from publisher, this wouldn’t count as a prior publication but reference to the dissertation and a note to the journal indicating prior inclusion in dissertation is recommended.


Content on this page was adapted from the University of Florida Libraries and re-used here under the CC-BY-NC-SA license asserted on that page.