Dissertation Copyright

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I have copyright over my dissertation? 

Yes. According to US Copyright law, you have copyright immediately and automatically over any of your new, original works in a “fixed, tangible form” (i.e., written down, recorded, etc.). You do not need to register or to include a copyright symbol © or any other formal marks to secure your copyright, though there are some benefits to doing so. See the Copyright Guide for more information or email copyright@upenn.libanswers.com for further support.

Should I register the copyright in my dissertation with the U.S. Copyright Office? 

It depends on what you want to do with your dissertation. There are some benefits to registering the copyright in your dissertation depending on your future goals. However, keep in mind that you automatically have copyright over your dissertation without formally registering. To learn more about formally registering the copyright in your dissertation, see the Copyright Guide or schedule a consultation.  

Should I pay ProQuest to register my copyright?

Note that you already have copyright over your dissertation, but if you would like to formally register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office, you can pay ProQuest to do it for you (you will have the option in ETD Administrator). For less cost, you can register it yourself on the copyright.gov web page. Information on registering your copyright is available in the Copyright Guide. Please keep in mind that if portions of your dissertation are comprised of previously published co-authored material, you cannot register your copyright through ProQuest. 

What is a Creative Commons license?

A copyright license grants permission for someone else to use your copyrighted work.  A Creative Commons license is one type of copyright license. It works hand in hand with your copyright. It is not an independent type of copyright. By using a Creative Commons license you are telling the world under what circumstances they are able to use your work without asking your permission each and every time.  You can only add a Creative Commons license to your work if you are the copyright holder, and have not transferred your rights to someone else (like a publisher).

You may choose to apply a Creative Commons license to your dissertation by adding it to the copyright notice page; see the PhD Dissertation Formatting Guide for an example. Visit the Creative Commons website to review all the licenses in full detail and select one that fits your needs. 

Refer to the Services for Authors Guide or schedule a consultation to learn more about using a Creative Commons license on your dissertation.

I want to use copyrighted materials in my dissertation. Is that okay?

It depends. If the materials you wish to incorporate into your dissertation are copyrighted, you will need to do a fair use analysis for each item you use to determine if you can proceed without getting permission. If you do not feel that you can make a good "fair use" case, you will need to request permission from the copyright holder and provide all permission letters as Administrative Documents in ETD Administrator. Just because you are using the work for educational purposes does not automatically mean that your work is "fair use" or that you have permission to use the work. Request a consultation to learn more about fair use and other copyright considerations.

I want to use my own previously published materials in my dissertation. Is that okay?

It depends. If the materials you may wish to incorporate into your dissertation are published in a journal or other publication, you may need to seek permission from the journal, publisher, or any co-authors. These permission letters must be uploaded as supplementary material in ETD Administrator before the deposit date. Please refer to your publication agreement for further information.

Additionally, using previously published materials as part of your dissertation requires approval of the dissertation committee and Graduate Group Chairperson.


I would like to know more about publishing, copyright, open access, and other/related issues. How can I find out more?

The Penn Libraries offers a range of workshops and presentations on these topics (and other digital skills related topics) throughout the year. Groups can request a number of these workshops for classes or other group settings. For personal discussions about copyright, fair use, Creative Commons, scholarly publishing, and other related topics, please contact your subject librarian for support and further referrals. For more general information about these and related topics, review the Penn Libraries' guides by keyword or subject.