Copyright Resources: Copyright for Dissertations and Theses

This guide contains information and resources to support KU students, faculty, and staff in their efforts to use and create copyrighted works in teaching and learning, research, and creative activity.

Copyright Considerations for Theses and Dissertations

Copyright affects the author of a thesis or dissertation in two ways:  1) As a user of copyrighted material within the thesis or dissertation and 2) As the copyright owner of the thesis or dissertation. 

In addition to the general resources for all authors on the Getting Started, Using Copyrighted Works in Scholarship and Copyright Considerations for Authors tabs on this guide, this page includes information and resources that address common copyright concerns of authors of theses and dissertations. 

KU Libraries’ Shulenburger Office of Scholarly Communication & Copyright is happy to assist KU faculty, staff, and students with questions concerning copyright and fair use of copyrighted materials, in consultation with the KU Office of the General Counsel as needed. Contact us at for assistance.


There are guides for graduate scholars from other institutions that you might find helpful, though they will not have a KU perspective:

Using Previously-Published Materials as Chapters

In some disciplines, it's common to include entire articles that were published previously solely by the author or sometimes with co-authors as chapters in the thesis or dissertation.  In the case of co-authored material, each co-author has full copyrights to the entire work, unless there are contractual reasons why this is not the case, such as when an author is an employee of a project that claims copyright in any publications resulting from the research funded by the project.  The issue is that most article publication agreements transfer the author's copyrights to the publisher.  This gives the publisher control over how the work is used and distributed.  This means that authors may not have the rights to include their previously-published work as chapters in their thesis or dissertation without asking permission from the publisher first.

There's a handy list of publishers and their default policies at the bottom of the University of Florida's Copyright Concerns of Graduate Researchers resource. 

KUMC Graduate Students:  Graduate Studies at KUMC has posted instructions about how to cite previously published work and how to submit copyright permissions.   See page 18 of the KUMC Formatting Guidelines for more information.

How do you know if you can include your previously-published work?

  • Does the article have a Creative Commons license?
    • Authors can include the work as long as they use the work in accordance with the Creative Commons license.
  • Don't have the publication contract or aren't sure what the contract terms mean?  Try this first: 
    • Find the article on the journal web site and click on the Permissions link.
    • On the resulting screen, the requestor will usually be asked if they are the author of the article and how they intend to use it. 
    • Select "Reuse in a thesis/dissertation"  and complete the rest of the information requested.
    • Read the resulting screens carefully to see if the article can be used in the thesis or dissertation. 
    • If not, see Asking for Permission, below, for some tips.
  • Did the publication contract include language that allows the author to use the work after it's published in a new work or specifically in a thesis or dissertation? 
    • This is often the case in disciplines where articles are included in theses/dissertations, but not always.  If the contract allows, the author can include the work as long as it is used in accordance with the terms of the publication contract.
  • Publication agreement doesn't allow the author to use their article in a new publication?  
    • The author will need to ask the publisher for permission to reuse the article.  See Asking for Permission, below, for some tips.

Asking for Permission

Getting permission takes time; do this as soon as you know you want to use the article
  • Find the Contact information for the journal.  This is often found on the journal website in an About..., Contact or Permissions menu.
  • If there's a Contact form, include the following information:
    • Your name and when you are planning on graduating.
    • Indicate that you are the author of the article and that you want to include it in your thesis or dissertation.
    • Ask what you need to do to obtain permission.
  • If there is only an email address and phone number:
    • Send an email with the subject "Permissions Needed" and include the information above in the email message. 
    • If you are very close to graduation, contact the publisher's Permissions department by phone rather than email. 

Author as Copyright Owner

One of the graduation requirements at KU is the completion of the Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETD) Release Form.  In the Copyright section of that form, you will certify that your work does not, to the best of your knowledge, infringe upon copyrights owned by someone else, through, but not limited to plagiarism, unapproved reproduction of materials or improper citation.

Generally, an author has the copyrights to their thesis or dissertation from the moment that it is fixed in a tangible format, such as a Microsoft Word file, or a printed copy. 

  • According to the KU Intellectual Property Policy, the University of Kansas does not claim copyright in theses or dissertations produced by KU students, except for those special circumstances defined in the policy.
  • Authors don’t have to include a copyright statement--e.g. Copyright 2019 Jane Smythe-- in the work, though it’s sometimes helpful because it makes it clear who has the copyrights to the work. 
  • As the copyright owner of your thesis or dissertation, you need to decide whether you are going to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office.  See the section below:  Registering Your Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office

Registering Your Copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office

How to register

As part of the ProQuest submission process, authors can choose to register their copyright with the U.S.Copyright Office. We generally suggest that people register their copyrights if they can afford to do so.  

  • The cost is $75 if ProQuest registers the copyright for the student.  Many students choose this because of the convenience.
  • The cost is $45 if the author registers themselves by going to the U.S. Copyright Office website and registers the copyright using the Standard form.

Why register?

According to the U.S. Copyright Office publication Copyright Circular #1, pg. 7, there are several reasons why authors should register their copyright:

  • Registration establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
  • Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.
  • If made before or within five years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
  • If registration is made within three months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.
    • Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record the registration with the U.S. Customs Service for protection against the importation of infringing copies. For additional information, go to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website at

Embargoes of Theses and Dissertations

One of the decisions that the author of a thesis or dissertation must make as they prepare to graduate is whether to delay the release of the thesis or dissertation for a period of time after graduation.  This decision is often a balance between the need to make the work as visible as possible, and the desire to protect the work because the author wants to publish that research in journal articles or books, because of pending patents, or because the research is sensitive.

If an embargo is needed, KU's Embargo Policy for Theses and Dissertations spells out the circumstances under which an embargo may be requested and the process for doing so.

  • First, the student must submit the Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) Release Form to the school/College office. Embargo requests need to be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies in the author's department, the Department Chair, or the Committee Chair.  If an embargo is approved, this form will ensure that the thesis or dissertation file is protected from public view.  Keep in mind that the title, abstract, and keywords entered during the ProQuest submission will be visible, even if the file is protected.
  • Second, during the online submission process to ProQuest/UMI, in the Publishing Options section, the student must select I want my work to be available in ProQuest as soon as it is published > No, I have patents pending, or another reason why I need to delay access to the full text of my work, then select the embargo term.  If an embargo has been approved, this step will ensure that public view of the work is temporarily restricted in the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database.

Embargoes may be renewed before the expiration date by filling out the Embargo Renewal form for the KU ScholarWorks copy AND, for the ProQuest copy, by contacting ProQuest at or by phone at 1-800-521-0600 at least one month before the embargo expires.