Skip to Main Content
J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library

Copyright and Dissertations, Theses, and Master's Reports

This resource is intended to provide copyright guidance to Michigan Tech graduate students writing their dissertations, master's thesis, or master's report.

U.S. Copyright Basics

If you want to use someone else's copyrighted material (such as a figure or image) or even your own published article in your dissertation, master's thesis, or master's report, you'll need to determine if you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder in order to avoid copyright infringement.

But what is copyright?
U.S. copyright law grants authors certain rights for a limited period of time. Copyright is automatic and protects any original work with a minimum degree of creativity that is recorded or "fixed in a tangible medium." This could be a figure from a journal article, a file saved on a computer, a painting on canvas, or words written on a napkin in your cafeteria. Note that facts (including data), ideas, concepts, or principles cannot be protected under U.S. copyright law.

For more information about U.S. Copyright Law, visit the Van Pelt and Opie Library's Copyright Guide.

Permission is not needed if...

Under certain circumstances, it might not be necessary to seek permission to reuse someone else's work:

1. The work is in the public domain
If copyright has expired, the work is considered to be part of the "public domain" and you do not need to seek permission. 

  • Generally, in the United States works published since 1928 may still be protected by copyright. Works created since 1989 are be protected for 70 years after the death of the creator (or death of the last surviving creator in cases of joint authorship). In the case of corporate authorship, the work can be protected for 95 to 120 years.
  • Use this detailed chart from the Copyright Information Center at Cornell University to help you determine if the content is in the public domain or not.

2. The work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
If a work has been licensed using a Creative Commons license, this means the creators have already provided permission for others to use it under specific terms.

  • Look at the work itself or search the webpage you located it through for information on whether a Creative Commons License has been applied. 
  • See the Creative Commons licenses page for a complete list of all 6 and links to the specific legal terms of reuse permitted under each, as well as the standard icons that can be used for quick visual identification.

3. Your use falls within Fair Use
U.S. copyright law contains a provision that allows the use of a copyrighted work without permission if it's being used for purposes including, but not exclusive to criticism, parody, news reporting, research, scholarship, and teaching.  Learn more about determining fair use under the Fair Use tab of this guide.

4. Your own published work's license allows reuse in your dissertation, thesis, or report
When you publish, the copyright transfer agreement or the publisher's policies may allow for reuse of the work in your own dissertation, thesis, or report. Review your copyright transfer agreement or the publisher's author rights policies before requesting permission and clarify any terms with the publisher prior to submitting your work to the Graduate School.

I need to ask for permission, but how?

If you've discovered that you do need permission from a rights holder to use their (or your own) work in your dissertation, master's thesis, or master's report, you will need to seek permission in writing. Verbal confirmation is not legally binding.

Many publishers provide a mechanism for seeking permission online, such as a form. If one isn't available, a sample letter can be found in the guide from ProqQuest below. Response times will vary, so be sure to contact rights holders as early as possible.

Communicate to the copyright owners of 3rd party content how your work will be accessed by users and licensed.

When you ask permission to use 3rd party content, make sure you explicitly state how you intend to make your report/thesis/dissertation available to users, including the specific Creative Commons license you'll use (if any). For information on Creative Commons licensing, please see the Licensing tab.

In some cases, you may not be able to communicate the details of how your work will be access, for example, if a publisher only has a generic permission form available. In situations such as these, you may be limited to restricting your work to campus access only. You are encouraged to consult the library to be sure. Contact us anytime!

Getting Permission - Boilerplate Licensing Language

You may use the following statements, or a variation, when asking for written permission: 

"My [master's report/master's thesis/dissertation] will be..."

  • accessible on my institution's digital repository, Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech, but access will be restricted to those on campus. [This option prevents you from utilizing a Creative Commons license]

  • openly accessible on Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech, my institution's digital repository. [This option prevents you from applying any Creative Commons license because you have not stated the specific license you will use]

  • openly accessible on Digital Commons @ Michigan Tech, my institution's digital repository under a

    • Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0) [This license is the most open license.]

    • Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0)

    • Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0)

    • Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

    • Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-ND 4.0)

    • Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) [This is the most restrictive license.]

I have permission! What's next?

Always organize and retain your permission to republish copyrighted works so that you can include that information in your master's report, master's thesis, or dissertation. 

1. Include a credit line for each copyrighted work that you've received permission for. 

  • Sometimes the publisher will require a specific format or statement for you to use.
  • The Chicago Manual of Style contains useful formatting guidance. You may use the copy available in the library or check with the Graduate School. There is also an online version that provides a 30-day free trial.

2. After your credit line, include a reference to permissions.

  • Example: "See Appendix A for documentation of permission to republish this material."

3. Include all permissions and documentation in an appendix.

  • Redact signatures to reduce the possibility of identity theft.
  • For guidance on how to redact a signature using Adobe Acrobat Pro, see the Grad School's Redaction Tutorial.