Copyright Law and Your Thesis or Dissertation

Copyright law affects you in two ways: It governs the way in which you are allowed to use another person’s published works to support your own writing, and it determines how another person may use yours.

Use of previously published material

In academia it is generally accepted that “fair use” allows writers to use small portions of copyrighted material if the original meaning or intent is not distorted in any way and if credit is given to the source from which material was taken. Writers may not, however, use substantial portions of text (e.g., several pages) or tables, figures, photographs, or other illustrative material without the written permission of the copyright holder, who is usually the publisher of a journal or book.

Copyright law as it applies to the Internet is uncertain at best. To be safe, assume that, unless the work has a specific statement indicating that the item is in public domain, it is under copyright protection and that you may not use it without written permission.

If you include material for which you have received written permission to use, (even if it is your own previously published article [i.e., a reprint]), that permission must be submitted to the Graduate School along with your finished document; in addition, a statement that the material is “used by permission” must appear in your thesis or dissertation (see the UAB Format Manual for specific wording).

Copyrighting your own work

U.S. copyright law provides automatic copyright protection for written work from the time at which it is fixed in a tangible form for the first time. The advantage of officially registering (and paying for) your copyright is that registration establishes a public record of your copyright claim. A copyright page may be included in your thesis or dissertation whether or not you register for copyright protection. However, in the event that you later wish to initiate a copyright infringement suit, this official registration is required. You may initiate copyright procedures at the time of submission to the Graduate School, or you may copyright your dissertation at any time in the future. If you copyright your dissertation, a copyright page should be added to your dissertation.

ProQuest/UMI, the company that publishes the online database Dissertation Abstracts will also handle the copyright procedure if you wish. The cost is $65 and is paid at the time that you pay your "SUBMISSION" fee (or you may file your own copyright application through the U.S. Copyright Office: http://www.copyright.gov/). The $65 fee to ProQuest/UMI includes copyright registration plus completion of requisite forms and applications and the creation of the deposit copy of your dissertation. UAB Master’s theses are not submitted to ProQuest/UMI. Therefore, if you would like to copyright your thesis you should do so directly through the U.S. Copyright Office.

If you are reprinting articles which have previously been published or that you wish to publish later, the publishing company owns (or will own) the copyright. Therefore, preprint/reprint theses and dissertations should not be copyrighted.