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Copyright: Dissertations and Theses

This guide is a copyright and 508/ADA compliance resource for APUS faculty and students.

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Dissertations and Theses: Overview

When completing undergraduate research papers and assignments, issues related to intellectual property are often of little concern to students and faculty. This is because almost all material used in undergraduate work is considered to be Fair Use.


Graduate work, however, falls into a different category of academic writing. The ultimate goal of a graduate thesis or doctoral dissertation is publication. Because of this, special consideration is given to copyright, in terms of both protecting your own work, and in ensuring that you are not infringing on the intellectual property rights of others.

Copyright at a Glance

Title 17, United States Code:

Copyright is a form of protection provided by US law to the authors of original intellectual works. This includes literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and other creative works.

Copyright owners have exclusive rights to authorize reproduction of their work, sale or distribution or their work, and public display or performance of their work.

Copyrighting your Work

After completing your thesis or dissertation, you most likely will want to ensure that you retain the intellectual property rights to your work.

According to the Berne Convention, Copyright is obtained merely by putting a creative work in a tangible form. An author does not need to obtain official federal copyright to own the rights to their work. 

If, however, you would like to reserve the right to pursue monetary damages in the event that someone infringes on your intellectual property rights, you must register your work with the US Copyright Office via their Registration Portal. There is a small fee associated with this service. ProQuest also offers a service that will file for copyright registration on your behalf for a fee of approximately $55.

Creating a Copyright Page for your Work

Regardless of whether or not you register your work with the US Copyright Office, you should include a copyright page at the beginning of your dissertation or thesis. An example of a properly formatted copyright page can be found here.

Avoiding Infringement in Your Work

Dissertations and theses usually require utilizing the work of others, including writing and various forms of multimedia. In order to avoid infringing on the intellectual property rights of your fellow scholars, it is important to keep a detailed record of all of the third-party content you include/reproduce in your work. This includes:

  • Anything beyond brief excerpts from written research materials
  • All images, including photographs, illustrations, infographics, graphs, charts, and maps (unless you created them)
  • Other media, including audiovisual works and sometimes software
  • In some cases, your own previously published work

The copyrighted work of others may only be used if you obtain written permission from the copyright owner. This entails finding the contact information for each rights holder and sending a written request to use their work. This is why keeping a record of all third party material is necessary.

There are many examples of permission letters on the open web that you can use as a model for yours. We recommend starting with the example provided at

In many cases, a fee is required in order to use the works of others. APUS does not cover the costs associated with obtaining permissions to use copyrighted materials in student work. Students are responsible for obtaining all permissions as well as paying any licensing/permissions fees.

In some cases, the third-party material you are using may not be protected by copyright, or may be used without obtaining permissions from the rights holder. Examples include works in the Public Domain and Creative Commons material.

Registering with the US Copyright Office

Copyright Staff at APUS do not register student work with the US Copyright Office or obtain rights to copyrighted material on behalf of students. Staff is available, however, to field student questions on this topic.

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