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For Graduate Students

Copyright related questions from graduate students may be numerous but the almost always fit into one of the following categories, with minor fact variations.  All graduate students will benefit from reading the Copyright Basics FAQ and/or the Copyright Basics tutorial since that information will not be repeated here.


1.  I am using third party materials (someone else's work) in my thesis or dissertation.  For example, I want to use a figure(s), image(s), photo(s), graphic(s), etc.  I found the work from a textbook, published journal article, or the web.  Do I need permission?

Response:  This question (and its variations) is the most frequently asked question received from graduate students at NC State.  First, all of these types of works are likely copyrighted regardless of their source, unless they are in the public domain.   It does not matter if there is a copyright notice on the work or not; it isn't required any more.

•  Check to see if there is any sort of "license" or "Creative Commons" license attached to the work you wish to use that might anticipate your use and allow it.  [Like a "Terms and Conditions" statement that allows nonprofit educational use, for example]

•  Otherwise, in order to use the work, it must qualify as a fair use or you must seek permission.

•  Although you must conduct the fact-driven fair use analysis yourself in a good faith reasonable fashion, there is a good chance that your proposed use is a fair use for purposes of inclusion in your thesis or dissertation.  However, should you plan to later publish your work, that may alter the analysis (4th factor) so much as to remove it from fair use.  Also, your publisher may simply require permissions for anything not original to you.  If publication is your intent, it may be simpler to obtain the permission early on.

Short Answer:  Probably a fair use if "just" a thesis or dissertation; Probably need permission if intend to publish.

2.  Can I use my own previously published materials in my thesis or dissertation?

Response:  Another common question from graduate students is whether previously published chapters or articles, authored by the graduate student, can be scanned into the thesis or dissertation, without permission of the publisher but with proper citation and attribution?  A variation of this question is whether reprints of the published papers can just be inserted into the NC State's Electronic and Thesis Dissertation (ETD) system.

The answer depends on the publication agreement you signed with the publisher in order to have your chapters or articles published.  You will need to find that agreement and review the paragraph addressing copyright transfer or assignment. If you have transferred the copyright in your article or chapter to the publisher without retaining any use rights for yourself, you are no longer the copyright holder.  You will need permission from the copyright holder (your publisher) in order to use the published material in your thesis or dissertation.

3.  Does placement of your thesis or dissertation in the NC State in the NC State ETD online database constitute "prior publication"?

Response: There is no uniform answer to this question.  As universities increasingly move to mandatory electronic submission and online storage of theses and dissertations, more and more publishers are taking the view that it does not constitute prior publication.  But the only way to know for sure is to check with the journal that has accepted your work.

4.  Does NC State have any ownership interest in your thesis or dissertation?

Response:  If your thesis or dissertation was authored entirely by you and no one else at NC State, you are the copyright holder of your work.  University REG 01.25.03 does provide that NC State acquires a "shop right" in your work as a student.   For you, the shop right basically serves the function of allowing the posting of your work in the ETD system, E-reserves, and so forth.  The existence of the shop right should be disclosed to any entity you are transferring or assigning your copyright to.

5  What do I need to know about copyright in publishing agreements?

Response:  Publishing agreements almost universally contain some kind of clause transferring all rights, etc., to the publisher.  This is not valid until signed by you.  When you transfer "all rights", you are giving up the entire bundle of copyright, including not only the right to reproduce the work, but also the right to make derivative works.

Research Ethics Mini Rounds: An Introduction to Intellectual Property Copyright Issues: Selected Readings