I wrote my Ph.D. thesis without copy/pasting any of my prior published articles. Now that the university library got hold of my Ph.D. thesis; I'm wondering who owns the entire publishing rights of my Ph.D. thesis?
Did you sign an agreement to transfer copyright to someone else?
Does your university policy (example) or employment contract specify that someone else holds the copyright to your thesis?
If the answer to both questions is "no" then you, as the author of the thesis, hold the copyright.
In the US, most university students retain the copyright for their thesis. Often they are required to grant the university and/or ProQuest a non-exclusive license to distribute the thesis, but without giving up copyright.
You do, until you sign the rights away. This is regardless of whether you have a copyright page, thanks to the Berne Convention.
Note that depositing it in the library does not waive any of your rights.
You do transfer some rights when you deposit it through ProQuest but 1) you didn't mention doing so, 2) the form you would have signed if you had done so would have made what rights they wanted explicit, and 3) ProQuest does not request exclusive rights to publish and distribute your dissertation in any case , so you can publish parts or all of it in other venues without their permission.
Note that some publishers are hesitant to publish monographs based on dissertations accessible on ProQuest but this is a business decision not legal one. They fear the availability of the ProQuest version is a market threat that draws away from the salability of a monograph based on the dissertation. As a result, some students have asked ProQuest to embargo the dissertation for a few years, which is something ProQuest is happy to do.
I copyrighted my Ph.D. dissertation as soon as I was awarded by degree. I am the only copyright owner. The dissertation was archived through a well known group in Michigan (Dissertation Databases ProQuest Dissertations & Theses). I did not sign over or transfer my copyright to them for their archives. Anyone who wishes to use material from my dissertation must contact me for copyright permission before doing so. Anyone who publishes work using any of my original data or ideas must also cite my dissertation in their bibliography to avoid copyright infringement or plagiarism claims.
I was disappointed to learn that my thesis advisor who was not a co-author of my dissertation decided to publish my work in a peer reviewed journal without my knowledge or permission. He named himself author and did not cite my dissertation in the bibliography. Neither the journal nor NYU cared to intervene on my behalf to correct and restitute me with authorship and citation as I was entitled.
The only recourse a student has against the theft of their dissertation in the absence of granting copyright permission to another person who wishes to publish work from the dissertation is to apply for and obtain the copyright first. This does grant legal rights to the copyright owner in case of theft or wrong doing on the part of another person who appropriates material without permission. Graduate students should insure a written agreement or statement from the university,their mentor or their Dept. guaranteeing them authorship rights to their original dissertation research prior to beginning a lengthy Ph.D. program.....otherwise they will become unpaid slaves for five to six years and end up with nothing to show for it in the end if these rights are not secured before they begin. A word to the wise but filing for copyright ownership is a form of security should they require legal protection down the road!