As both a user and an author of content, students writing a dissertation or thesis are usually concerned about copyright issues. The doctrine of fair use is an exception to the law that allows you to use copyrighted materials, such as poetry, photographs, illustrations, figures, tables or data, in your own work without payment to or permission from the copyright owner. Depending on the outcome of a fair use analysis of third party content, however, you may need to seek permission(s) from a copyright holder(s) before you submit your dissertation or thesis to the George Mason University Dissertation & Thesis Service. Secure any needed permissions ahead of time so your graduation date will not be affected. Most importantly, provide complete citations for the copyrighted content you incorporate into your dissertation or thesis, particularly for entire works (i.e., photographs, tables, charts, etc.) used.

Once your own work is “fixed” in a medium, including digital memory, it is automatically protected by copyright law. You are not required to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office for it to be granted copyright protection, but a benefit of registering is to create a public record of your copyright claim. Moreover, registration is required if you wish to seek statutory damages in a lawsuit for copyright infringement. Nevertheless, you may sue for actual damages even if you have not filed a copyright registration. A copyright page in your document is optional, but you may add a copyright statement regardless of registration. (Please see the George Mason University Dissertation & Thesis Services for more information.)

Keep in mind, when you submit an electronic copy of your dissertation to Proquest, as required by the University, you have the option to pay a fee to Proquest to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office upon request. If you choose this option, you do not need to submit a separate registration to that Office. Be sure to read carefully the contract you sign with Proquest. When you sign this document, it is legally binding. If you have basic questions about the contract, ask Mason’s UDTS Coordinator or a Proquest representative for clarification.

One student’s experience with copyright and his thesis.

Fair Game: Open Access in the Emerging Digital Commons from Christopher Boulton on Vimeo.