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Electronic Theses and Dissertations - Copyright, Open Access and Publishing FAQ

What is copyright?

Copyright is the law of authorship. Under copyright owners controls the reproduction, distribution, performance and display of their works. They also control the production of derivative works such as translations. A wide range of works can be copyrighted: literary, musical, dramatic, choreographic, pictorial, sculptural works, motion pictures, sound recordings and computer code.

Who owns the copyright of a thesis or dissertation?

The copyright of the thesis or dissertation belongs to the student. Works are automatically copyrighted at the point of creation. If parts of a work have already been published and copyright was transferred to the publisher the copyright of those parts would remain with the publisher.

Do I need to register my copyright?

No, but there are certain benefits of registering. More information from the Copyright Office is available. You may register directly with the Copyright Office for $35 or you can have ProQuest register for you for $55.

Can I legally use the copyrighted material of others?

First you need to determine if the work is copyrighted. Works published prior to 1923 and works of the federal government are in the public domain. You should assume that other works are under copyright. The fair use section of the copyright law allows for limited uses of copyrighted material without the owner's permission. There is no exact rule on how much of another work one may use as a fair use. In general you do not want to use so much of a work that your work would substitute for the original work. Extensive use of images, audio or video from one person may require permission. See ProQuest Guidelines.

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

It depends. Assuming that you conveyed the copyright of your work to the publisher you need to see if the publisher allows it. As of Fall 2011 most major publishers indicated on their web pages that a previously published article could be included in a thesis or dissertation. You should be careful about signing publication agreements as you may limit your ability to use your works in the future. More information is available.

How do I get permission?

Most works will be owned by publishers not the author/creator so you will need to identify and contact the publishers. A draft permissions letter is available from ProQuest. Contact library staff to determine the publisher of a journal and obtain contact information.

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

UW ETD's are distributed by both ProQuest and the UW Libraries. Both will make your work available (ProQuest through its Digital Dissertations database and print sales if you choose to allow that, and the UW Libraries through its ResearchWorks service) and preserve it for the future. In return for those services, both ProQuest and UW 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. See the ProQuest agreement and the UW Libraries Agreement

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 "repositories" like PubMed Central or the Libraries' ResearchWorks. UW Graduate School policy is for all newly-published UW theses and dissertations to be open access through ResearchWorks, either immediately or after a limited delay. See Open Access FAQ.

Can I use a Creative Commons (CC) license for my thesis or dissertation?

Yes, at your option you can use a CC license for your work. The license will allow you to define how you can share your work with others beyond what is normally allowed as a fair use. To use a CC license first determine which license you want to use - details are at: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/. Then you need to add the information to the copyright page of your work - see example below. You can obtain the symbol for your particular license at http://creativecommons.org/about/downloads.

Creative Commons example

For table formatting within a word document, please see this file (MS Word document).

Can I delay or otherwise limit the release of my thesis or dissertation?

Yes. Most students will want to make their theses or dissertations available as soon and as widely as possible, but some may want to delay or limit their release. This is commonly referred to as an "embargo" and may be appropriate when a student wants to allow time to explore publishing part of it in other forms, such as journal articles or a book; it contains material for which a patent might be sought; or it includes other sensitive or confidential information. Embargoes can be placed either on the ProQuest system, the UW Libraries' ResearchWorks, or both. The default selection in both is for no delay or embargo, with delays of 6 months, 1 year, or 2 years available on the ProQuest system, and 1, 2 and 5 years on ResearchWorks. It is also possible to restrict access to the ProQuest system and/or to UW users during the embargo period. See Graduate School Policy.

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

Yes. Publisher policies and practices within disciplines do vary, but recent surveys of journal editors showed that 85% or more of journal editors in the sciences and the humanities and social sciences would "always welcome" article submissions based on open access ETD's, or would consider them on a case by case basis or if they were "substantially different" from them. Similarly, some 80% of university presses surveyed would consider publishing a book based on one. In part, this is 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. Publishers say that they are more interested in the quality of the work and an author's willingness to edit as needed than they are in whether the work has previously appeared in another form.

What if I have further questions?

  • For information about copyright and fair use contact:
    Thom Deardorff, Coordinator for Access Services/Libraries Copyright Officer
    tdeardor@uw.edu or 206 685-1469
  • For information about the publishing agreements, embargoes and open access contact:
    Tim Jewell, Director, Information Resources and Scholarly Communication
    tjewell@uw.edu or 206 543-3890
  • For patent information contact:
    Jesse Kindra, Director of Intellectual Property Management
    jkindra@uw.edu or 206 543-3970
  • Seattle, Washington