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ETD Preparation & Submission: Guidelines for Graduate Students: Copyright & Your ETD

Electronic Theses & Dissertations (ETD) LibGuide

Key Concepts Tutorial

What is copyright? 

Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to creators of "original works" that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression, such as your ETD. See the other tabs in this box for more information about copyright and related concepts.

What if I have questions about copyright? 

Please contact the Digital Scholarship Librarian. Copyright is a complicated subject. The Digital Scholarship Librarian will be able to answer your questions.

Who owns the copyright to my work?

As the author of your ETD, you own the copyright to your work.  Under U.S. Copyright law, a creator of an "original work" created in a "fixed tangible medium" is immediately and automatically the copyright owner of the work, and your work is protected. 

Do I need to register my work with the U.S. Copyright Office?
Your ETD is automatically protected under copyright.  However, there are some important practical and legal benefits to registering your copyright, particularly the right to collect "statutory damages" in a successful infringement lawsuit.  Essentially, if at some point you might want to take legal action in order to protect your work, you should register it.

How do I register my work?
Students have two options:

  1. While creating your ProQuest/UMI account, you can request that ProQuest/UMI file for copyright with the U.S. Copyright on your behalf.  ProQuest charges a $55 fee for this service. 
  2. You can do the filing yourself directly through U.S. Copyright Office at  You will be charged a $35 registration fee.

What else do I need to know about copyright when preparing my ETD?‚Äč

  1. You must get permission or provide Fair Use Checklists in order to include some content in your dissertation. Works created by others such as survey instruments, large excerpts of creative work such as poems or photographs, or content which requires a license to use may require you to seek permission. Standard academic quotation does not require permission documentation or a Fair Use Checklist.
  2. You must cite the tables, figures, images, and data that you did not create yourself.
  3. You must cite your sources.

If you do not do these things, you may be committing copyright infringement and/or plagiarism. Please see the Permissions tab in this box for help seeking permission to use materials that are under copyright.


How do I get permission?

When using copyrighted material in your own work, determine whether you need permission:

  • Check for rights restrictions—this includes Creative Commons licenses.

Generally the author owns the copyright, but not always. For example, dissertation research may have been done in a lab with grant funding obtained by the faculty member advising the dissertation.  Or, chapters within the dissertation may have been accepted or published as journal articles.

  • If your ETD contains material that you have submitted to a publisher, make sure you follow the permission guidelines of the publisher. The publisher's website is the best place to start.

In some cases you may qualify for Fair Use under the guidelines in section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Code. Duquesne provides a fair use checklist that you must use to document your fair use analysis.

  • If your use meets the Fair Use criteria, fill out the checklist and keep it in your records. Include copies of all checklists with your ETD filing.
  • If you do not qualify for Fair Use, get permission before using the copyrighted material. Include copies of all permissions with your ETD filing.

Tips for getting permission

  • Use a permissions service to save time. Start with the Copyright Clearance Center. You can often fill out a form online and receive an immediate answer.
  • Check the publisher website for permissions information.
  • Be prepared to pay—many copyright holders allow free use for theses and dissertations, but you may have to pay a fee. To keep the cost affordable, describe your intended use carefully and limit your use to only what is needed.
  • Allow sufficient timeif you need to write directly to the copyright holder you can expect the process to take several weeks at least. Write for  permission as soon as you determine you need it.
  • Do not use the material until you receive permission—lack of response from the copyright holder does not give you the right to use the material. Keep documentation of your requests and payments.

Survey Instruments

When seeking to include the text of a survey instrument in your thesis or dissertation, make sure you obtain permission if the instrument is not in the public domain or openly licensed (e.g. Creative Commons licensed). The permission to use that you may have obtained at the beginning of your research does not necessarily give you permission to reprint the instrument itself, especially when the instrument is commercially produced. Check your license and seek permission when necessary.

Survey instruments may need to be redacted from your ETD if permission is not sought. In this case, you may be able to include a representative sample of survey items, or simply provide a citation to the instrument for your reader.

Your analysis of survey results and selective inclusion of information about or quotes from the survey instrument in your text should not require permissions. Check your license to the instrument if you are unsure.

Contact the Digital Scholarship Librarian for help with survey instruments.


Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States to authors of "original works" that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.  Copyright does not protect ideas; copyright protects the expression of ideas.

Under copyright law (Section 106, 1976 Copyright Act) the copyright owner is granted the following exclusive rights:

• To reproduce the work (i.e. to make copies);
• To prepare derivative works (i.e. to make a movie from a book or to translate a work into another language);
• To distribute copies publicly;
• To perform the work publicly (i.e. a play or movie);
• To display the work publicly; and
• In the case of sound recordings, to perform the work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

The owner of the copyright may transfer all or part of these rights to others.

Subject to some exceptions described in this guide (including fair use), if a person exercises any of these rights in use of another’s work without permission, the person may be liable for copyright infringement. 

Public Domain

Public Domain works are not restricted by copyright and thus do not require permission to use. In general, either the copyright has expired, or the work was intentionally created to be in the Public Domain (for example, works created by the US government are in the public domain). Copyright expiration depends on a number of complicated factors. Please contact the Digital Scholarship Librarian with questions regarding Public Domain.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) is an alternative-licensing scheme. It provides some or all of the protection of copyright. There are six difference license types, each having its own label that state the terms of the license. If you see a Creative Commons License in one of your sources, check the label to find out what is required for you to use the work.

creative commons logo

Open Access logo

What is Open Access?

"Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles, coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment." (SPARC)

Open Access is one of the publishing options available to Duquesne ETD students. It is useful to learn about Open Access if you are interested in publishing your ETD as Open Access.

By art designer at PLoS, modified by Wikipedia users Nina, Beao, and JakobVoss ( [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Fair Use

Fair Use is an exception granted under Section 107 of US Copyright Law. To qualify for fair use, there are 4 factors use which are "weighed." The more factors in favor of Fair Use, the more likely it is that you qualify. Be aware that every creator has a different idea of what they will consider Fair Use. It is ultimately the prerogative of a US judge to determine whether a use is fair use. When in doubt, ask permission!

The 4 factors are:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The above is the exact passage from section 107. Consult the Duquesne Fair Use Checklist for help in determining if you qualify for Fair Use.

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