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Copyright: Theses
& Dissertations

Dealing with Permissions

Since your thesis or dissertation will be further distributed through MOSpace or through the ProQuest Dissertation and Theses Dissemination program, you need to be especially careful about including materials by others that are covered by copyright.  When you sign the ProQuest publishing agreement, you accept sole responsibility for any third party claims regarding copyright infringement.

If you include materials you have authored and previously published, check your publishing agreement. If you transferred copyright to your publisher, you may need to seek permission to reuse your own work!

Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis by Kenneth D. Crews lists the types of materials that require consideration of copyright issues.
The fair use doctrine allows the use of portions of some materials for non-commercial purposes, especially for commentary or critique, but ProQuest reserves the right to remove a work from their publishing program, "if it believes that all necessary rights of third parties have not been secured."  You will need to keep track of the copyright status, copyright holders, and any permissions sought or received for any third party materials you use in your dissertation or thesis.

First, determine if you are dealing with a copyrighted work.

  • Copyright covers "original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression."
    Copyright protection is automatic from the moment of creation. Student work, class notes, YouTube videos, websites, personal letters, email, diagrams, and many other things are all covered by copyright.

  • Is the work in the public domain? Most federal government publications and works published prior to 1923 are in the public domain and may be freely used. Works published between 1924 and 1989 may be in the public domain, but require more investigation. Unpublished work (manuscripts, letters, etc.) are usually protected longer.
  • Is the work you wish to use covered by a Creative Commons license?

If the work you wish to use is not available in the public domain or through a Creative Commons license, you may run a Fair Use analysis. However, others might disagree with your analysis and determine that you must seek permission to use the material.

If none of the above applies, you must seek permission, which may involve paying fees.
Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis provides a form letter for requesting permission and also a recommended form for granting permission.

Managing Your Rights

Copyright law protects original works that are fixed in some medium. As the author of your dissertation or thesis, you are the copyright holder, unless you have entered into some funding or employment agreement that places copyright ownership with someone else.

As the copyright owner, you can determine how your work is published or distributed. You can restrict the rights of others to distribute your work, or you can proactively grant permission for certain uses by attaching a Creative Commons license or your own statement granting permissions.

The publishing and distribution agreements you sign to distribute your dissertation through MOSpace and ProQuest are nonexclusive, allowing you to make agreements with other publishers as well.

You should carefully review any publishing agreement to make sure you retain the right to share or reuse your work as you wish. Publishing agreements can be negotiated and amended. We recommend using the SPARC Author Addendum.

You can make your dissertation available through Open Access, either immediately or after an embargo period. Some publishers may be reluctant to publish material that is already available through Open Access, but this varies by publisher and discipline. You might also want to restrict access if your dissertation contains sensitive or confidential materials or deals with patentable discoveries.

See Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis: Ownership, Fair Use, and Your Rights and Responsibilities for more details.

Copyright Registration

Although your work is covered by copyright from the moment it is fixed in a tangible medium, registration with the Copyright Office provides some extra legal protection and is recommended. ProQuest takes care of this for a small fee, as indicated in the Processing Fee Statement Form.
Or you may register your dissertation or other works yourself.


Nothing on this guide is to be construed as legal advice. These pages are intended to provide information and guidance in the application of copyright law and to expand on the University of Missouri System Collected Rules and Regulations.

Thanks to Miller Nichols Library of UMKC for permission to reuse material from their Copyright guide.