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Graduate Thesis Submission Guide

The libraries' advice and requirements for graduate theses.

Copyright and Your Thesis

Respecting copyright — and understanding the basics of copyrighted-related issues — is an important aspect of your thesis-writing process and an issue that will continue to arise throughout your academic and creative career. We know copyright can be intimidating and hard to make sense of: after all, discussions of copyright often stray into complex legal, creative, and ethical terrain. While it isn't necessary for you to be a copyright expert, it is essential that you understand copyright issues as they relate to including and referencing the work(s) of others in your thesis. 

With that in mind, here are our overarching recommendations as you consider which third party materials to include in your thesis: 

  • Use open access works and/or works covered by Creative Commons Licenses
  • Ensure your use of copyrighted materials counts as "fair use" (in other words, repurpose, reinterpret, or otherwise "transform" the copyrighted work in question)
  • Request permission for copyrighted works
  • Remove potentially problematic materials entirely from your thesis

We recommend you follow the above guidelines in the order that they're listed; that is, seek out open access works first to avoid any potential copyright infringements. If you are unable to do so, seek fair use for copyrighted materials. If each of these strategies is unsuccessful, your last resort may be to request permission for copyrighted work[s], or to remove problematic third party content from your thesis entirely if this option fails. The following three subpages — Open Access Images, Fair Use, and Requesting Permission for Copyrighted Materials — breaks each of these issues down into greater detail. 

Why Does Copyright Matter?

For the purposes of your thesis, you don't need to be an expert in copyright law. However, understanding the major issues and questions around copyright will help you make informed decisions about your thesis and protect it from copyright challenges once it's published. Understanding and respecting copyright is also about giving credit where it's due, an essential aspect of Pratt's Academic Integrity Policy. So while respecting copyright has to do with protecting your thesis from infringement challenges, on a deeper level it also has to do with pursuing your academic and creative work with integrity and acknowledgement of other's contributions.

The following excerpt from Kenneth Crews' article Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis summarizes this sentiment well: 

"Finishing your dissertation is exhausting and gratifying. You have invested countless days of research, followed by hours of writing late into the night. You made exciting breakthroughs, and you aspire to a career of further research. You probably did not expect to indulge in copyright at this stage of your study. However, attention to copyright can help avoid pitfalls and reveal opportunities to further your scholarly goals. Given the way that the law operates, copyright law most certainly protects your dissertation as well as the quotations, photographs, music, diagrams, and many other works that you have included in your doctoral study. The decisions you make about copyright can directly affect the quality of your work, your ability to publish your dissertation, and your opportunities for building upon your years of research throughout your career. Attending to the fundamentals of copyright can be important for your scholarship, regardless of your discipline or field of expertise." (Crews, 2013). 

Copyright Checklist

The following checklist — also summarized from Kenneth Crews' article — should be referred to throughout the process of researching and writing your thesis. Though you might be tempted to put these considerations off until later, remember: any preparation or planning done early on will make things much easier as you get closer to submitting your thesis.  

  1. Do a thorough sweep or your thesis draft and identify all third-party materials you plan to include in your final project. Common third party materials include images, sources from the Web, and long quotations (over 1.5 pages, single-spaced) from published works. 
  2. Ask yourself, "Are any of these materials open access?" If yes, they have no copyright restrictions.
  3. Ask, "Does my inclusion of this material count as fair use?" 
  4. Ask, "Do any of these materials have Creative Commons Licenses?" Creative Commons Licenses allow for free distribution of otherwise copyrighted works (with proper attribution).  
  5. For any materials that don't meet the above conditions, ask, "Do I have permission to use these?" If not, refer to the "Requesting Permission for Copyrighted Materials" page of this guide. 
  6. Ask, "Am I including any materials that I've created but that have been previously published elsewhere?" Even if you are the original author of these materials, you will need permission to include them in your thesis. 

Resources and Further Reading

We've provided relevant excerpts from these resources throughout this guide, and have also included them in their entirety below for you to review.