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Copyrighting your Dissertation

In the United States, you automatically own the copyright in your original creative authorship, such as your dissertation, once it is fixed in a tangible form (i.e., written down or recorded). United States law does not require you to include a copyright notice on your dissertation or to formally register with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to secure copyright protection over your work. However, there are some benefits to including a copyright notice and registering your work. See the Copyright Guide for more information or to schedule a consultation.

Including a Copyright Page in your Dissertation

Including a copyright page in your dissertation is optional but recommended. For details on how to format the copyright page, consult the PhD Dissertation Formatting Guide and the PhD Dissertation Formatting Checklist.

Using Your Own Previously Published Material in Your Dissertation

University of Pennsylvania policy allows you to include your own previously published work or articles submitted for publication as part of the dissertation with the following conditions:

  • You must obtain approval of the dissertation committee and Graduate Group Chairperson.
  • You must obtain written permission from the copyright owner, which may be the journal, publisher, and/or any co-authors, unless you are the sole copyright holder (depends on your publishing agreement).
  • You must upload any permission letters in ETD Administrator as an Administrative Document titled “Permission Letter – Do Not Publish.”
  • For dissertations based on joint work with other researchers, a unique and separate dissertation must be presented by each degree candidate. You must include a concise account of your unique contribution to the joint work, and remainder of the dissertation must be authored solely by you. Authorship of an entire dissertation by more than one degree candidate is not allowed.
  • Your dissertation must be formatted as a single document with consistent formatting and styles throughout. If you are using multiple previously published articles, make sure to make the formatting consistent with the rest of the document.

When using previously published or in press work, you must disclose this information in your dissertation in the following format:

  • Under the Chapter title, list the full citation for the previously published/in-press article in the citation style used in your Bibliography.
  • If it is a jointly authored article, describe your contribution to the work in a separate sentence.


Example of Dissertation Formatting

Using Other Copyrighted Material in Your Dissertation

If you use third party copyrighted material (images, quotations, datasets, figures), you are responsible for re-use of that material (see the Policy on Unauthorized Copying of Copyrighted Media). In many cases, you may be able to use copyrighted material under the “fair use” provision of U.S. copyright law. Consult the PhD Dissertation Formatting Guide and the PhD Dissertation Formatting Checklist for information on how to submit written permission from a copyright holder. Typically, you will need to request a permission letter and upload the letter as an Administrative Document in ETD Administrator.

If you still have questions regarding copyright and “fair use” refer to the Penn Libraries Copyright Guide or email for further support.

Patent and Intellectual Property

Any inventions that you make as part of your research for your degree and disclosed as part of your dissertation, and any patent or other intellectual property rights arising therefrom, are governed by the policies of the University of Pennsylvania, including the Patent and Tangible Research Property Policies and Procedures and Policy Relating to Copyrights and Commitment of Effort for Faculty. For more information, please contact the Penn Center for Innovation.

There are strict deadlines under U.S. and international law regarding the timing for filing patent applications and the public availability of your dissertation. Contact the Penn Center for Innovation to discuss whether there might be a patentable invention disclosed in your dissertation prior to deposit of your dissertation.

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 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 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.