Theses, Dissertations, & Copyright


Your master's thesis or doctoral dissertation is your contribution of new knowledge to your discipline. It is made available to a global audience through DigitalCommons@EMU, EMU's institutional repository.

The Q & A below addresses many of the concerns about contributing work to DigitalCommons@EMU voiced by master's and doctoral students .

Q. What is copyright?
A. Copyright is a bundle of legal rights that gives the author or creator of original works of authorship exclusive rights to reproduce and distribute their work, to modify the work or prepare derivative works, and to perform or display a work publicly.

The protection of authors’ works is written into the United States Constitution, Art. I, Sec. 8, Clause 8 and detailed in Title 17 of the U.S. Code.

Q. Who owns the copyright to my thesis or dissertation?
A. You do! As soon as your thesis or dissertation is in a tangible form, it is copyrighted and you, the author, are the copyright owner. Under current copyright law, you will continue to own the copyright to your work for the length of your life plus 70 years.
Q. Do I have to register my work with the Copyright Office?
A. No, you do not. Your work is copyrighted as soon as it is in a tangible form, even if it isn't registered with the Copyright Office or if it doesn't carry the copyright symbol.

However, there are advantages to registering your work with the Copyright Office.  Registration with the Copyright Office is proof that you are the author and the copyright holder, and becomes part of the public record. Also, if someone infringes on your copyrights and you wish to sue for statutory damages, your work must be registered with the Copyright Office.
Q. How do I register my work with the Copyright Office?
A. Your can register your work with the Copyright Office online for a fee of $45. (Instructions and links.)

ProQuest also offers you the option of having them submit your work with the Copyright Office for you for a fee of $65.

Q. Should I share my thesis or dissertation, or restrict access to it?
A. The decision on whether to make your work freely available or to restrict access to it, also known as embargoing, depends on your research and the norms of your discipline.

You may want to make your work freely available if:

  • You want to share your work with other scholars and researchers around the world.
  • You want to demonstrate the relevance of your research to admissions committees (if you plan to pursue an additional degree) or to hiring committees or other potential employers.
  • You are required to disseminate your work as a requirement for your degree or for the completion of a grant.

However, there are also good reasons why you may not want to share your work immediately. Common reasons for embargoing (limiting access to) your work include:

  • You want to preserve your rights to submit a patent related to the content of your thesis or dissertation.
  • You have ethical concerns about releasing sensitive or classified information collected or discovered during your research.
  • You intend to publish all or parts of your work as a journal article or book.

The best people to advise you about your embargo choice are your thesis or dissertation advisors. They know your research and the norms of the discipline. Please consult them before you make any decision about how accessible to make your work.

Q. Does posting my work in EMU’s institutional repository change my copyright holder status?
A. Not at all. The “permission to post” form you must sign before your materials are added to the institutional repository gives EMU permission to make your thesis or dissertation available online free of charge for a global audience. You are not signing over copyright of your work to EMU or the Library.
Q. If my work is posted in EMU’s institutional repository, won’t it be plagiarized or stolen?
A. Your work could be plagiarized whether it is posted in the institutional repository, published in an online journal, or even published in a traditional print book. While publishing a work online may make it easier for someone to appropriate your work, online publishing also makes plagiarism or copyright infringement easier to detect by you.

Posting your work in the institutional repository provides a record of your authorship and the date the thesis or dissertation was completed. You can also register your work with the Copyright Office so if someone does steal your work, your can pursue legal options.

Q. What if I do not want to post my work in EMU's institutional repository at all?
A. If you do not want your work to appear in EMU's institutional repository, contact the Graduate School and your department head/school director to discuss how to permanently embargo your work.
Q. Is there someone I can contact if I have questions or need more information?
A. You can contact Julia K. Nims, EMU Library’s Scholarly Communications Librarian, at

For questions about Graduate School policies and procedures, please contact the Graduate School at