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?

  • 7
    Well, have you given them to someone else at some point? Jan 29, 2015 at 10:33
  • @TobiasKildetoft What you mean? Ok, I'm updating the question with some background story.
    – o-0
    Jan 29, 2015 at 10:34

4 Answers 4


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.

  • 4
    +1. I was not aware that some (evil) universities actually claim the copyright to the thesis. Thank you for the link. This is unheard of in the social sciences and humanities.
    – RoboKaren
    Jan 29, 2015 at 13:30
  • 6
    @RoboKaren I think things get more complicated when you start dealing with things like industry funding, patentable designs, or confidential data. These things might not directly reflect on the copyright, but you can start to see why places might want the option of more control.
    – Jessica B
    Jan 29, 2015 at 15:53
  • As I commented on my answer, I think the MIT policy is an outlier.
    – StrongBad
    Jan 29, 2015 at 19:04

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.

  • Note that although I wrote this answer, ff524's is the authoritative one because in some circumstances and in some universities, you do not own the copyright to your own dissertation.
    – RoboKaren
    Jan 29, 2015 at 13:31

A priori you own the rights. But you may have transferred them to the University (when signing a study agreement) or to a project (e.g. when you thesis is e.g. financed by an EU project) or to a company financing your thesis.

Most Universities do, nowadays, give the copyright to the PhD student.


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!

  • 2
    I don't think this is right. If they pass your work off as their own, it's plagiarism regardless of the question of copyright infringement. And in the US at least, my understanding is that copyright is implicit -- as soon as you write it, you are protected from someone else republishing it. Neither the journal nor NYU cared to intervene on my behalf to correct and restitute me with authorship and citation as I was entitled. Something seems fishy here. Jul 13, 2017 at 23:56
  • 1
    There are hints of a real answer here, but they're hidden within a rant about your personal situation. I suggested editing your answer so that it sticks to the topic of the question. Jul 14, 2017 at 8:12
  • @FredDouglis Copyright is implicit and automatic in any Berne Convention signatory, which the USA finally became in 1988, a hundred years after the initial signatories. Jul 14, 2017 at 8:43
  • @DavidRicherby thanks for the confirmation. Took them long enough, eh? Jul 14, 2017 at 14:43
  • @FredDouglis Yeah though, to be fair, the UK only fully implemented Berne in the same year, despite being one of the original signatories! Jul 14, 2017 at 15:15

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