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Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis

Posted: Jan 8, 2013

Copyright is a type of intellectual property relating to how a creative work can be used, altered or duplicated. Copyright protection typically applies to literary texts which also include works such as theses, dissertations, musical scores, and software code. Copyright also covers visual art, performances, sound recordings and even extends to printed circuits.

Rensselaer’s Intellectual Property Policy (2007) recognizes theses and dissertations as “exempted scholarly works;” and in accordance with long established academic tradition, the policy states that Rensselaer “makes no claim to the ownership of copyright” in these works. This means that you, as the author, hold the copyright and are responsible for determining how your work can be used by others.

Your thesis or dissertation is automatically covered by U.S. copyright law (Title 17, United States Code) at the time of its creation, i.e. when it was fixed in some tangible form. This automatic protection gives you the right to go to court to stop someone from making copies of your work without your authorization. However, if you also want the right to sue for damages beyond regaining legal fees, you will need to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. When the copyright icon [ © ] appears on a work, it implies that the work has been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office and is subject to this greater protection. Authors of dissertations and master theses personally can file for copyright registration by obtaining the forms from the U.S. Copyright Office website. Because the United States is a signatory to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Work, an international agreement about copyright, your U.S. copyright is also recognized by almost every country in the world.

Rensselaer’s Copies of Your Thesis or Dissertation

The electronic copy of your thesis or dissertation that you provide to Rensselaer are part of your program requirements. This copy will be made available to members of the Rensselaer community as quickly as possible pending the resolution of any other intellectual property actions, e.g. a patent filing. Because your thesis or dissertation is considered to be a contribution to the world’s knowledge and Rensselaer is part of that community, your work will become known to a global audience via such means as ProQuest's Dissertations & Theses database, Rensselaer's library catalog, departmental and personal websites, and by citations to it in other research publications. Additionally, a print copy of your thesis or dissertation (which the Libraries obtain from ProQuest/UMI), will be made available to anyone at the Folsom Library, and individual researchers may request a photocopy of it from the library in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Electronic Access Options

When you submit the electronic copy of your thesis or dissertation to the Office of Graduate Education, you will have to choose between two access rights options that affect how your work will be announced and made available to other researchers: the Standard Rensselaer License or the Creative Commons License. These options do not affect how the print copy of your thesis or dissertation will be accessed or used.

Standard Rensselaer License

If you select the Standard Rensselaer License, the electronic copy of your thesis or dissertation will be available only to current Rensselaer faculty, staff and students, and to on-campus visitors; and Rensselaer will only allow the abstract of your work to be viewed by people outside of Rensselaer. You might want to choose this option if you plan to try to find a commercial publisher for your thesis or dissertation.

Creative Commons License

If you select the Creative Commons agreement, you authorize Rensselaer to permit the electronic copy of your thesis or dissertation to be viewable and available for download to anyone in accordance with the terms identified in a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial No Derivative Works 3.0 license. The license specifies that anyone may copy or share your thesis or dissertation, but they must attribute the work to you, cannot use the work for any commercial purpose, and cannot modify your work in any way without obtaining your explicit permission.

You might want to choose the Creative Commons option because it potentially provides you with faster professional recognition than is gained by using traditional distribution channels, and makes it easier for others to discover and access your work. However, it is important to note that a Creative Commons License is not "revocable," i.e. you cannot change this decision later. Your thesis or dissertation may also be considered as published by some entities because you made it available to the general public. Finding a publisher may be harder; and in some European jurisdictions, other intellectual property rights, such as your filing for patent protection, will be affected.

About the ProQuest Dissertation Service

Rensselaer has participated in the ProQuest Dissertation Service since the early 1950's. This voluntary program for universities was established by an act of the U.S. Congress to preserve doctoral dissertations on microfilm and to promote the dissemination of original research at a national level. The fee you pay to UMI/Proquest covers the cost of the production of a print copy of your dissertation for preservation at Folsom Library. The licensing agreement you sign authorizes ProQuest to make and sell single copies of your dissertation upon demand. For a fee the company will also register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. And, for an additional fee, you may also authorize ProQuest to make electronic copies of your dissertation available as an “open access” publication.

This page is maintained by Katie Dunn.

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