I am in the process of submitting my thesis online. I think most of the people here are familiar with ProQuest. One of the option you have is to have them register the copyright to your thesis with the US Copyright Office (in your name).

From my point of view, a thesis should not be copyrighted simply because I think of it as an extended paper. I will gladly let people use my work and cite me appropriately.

Having seen that option though, I am wondering if there is any reason to register the copyright to a thesis.

  • 10
    Any creative work is copyrighted by default as soon as it is written down (or otherwise placed in a fixed medium), so as written, this question doesn't make much sense. Are you referring to registering your copyright with the US Copyright Office? Or putting an explicit copyright notice on it? Or choosing not to release it under a more permissive license? Or something else?
    – ff524
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 3:09
  • @ff524 Yes you are correct: I am referring to Registering my copyright with a U.S. Copyright Office.
    – ZanCoul
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 3:12
  • 3
    I have edited the post to reflect your comment; but you should realize that your second paragraph doesn't really make a lot of sense, given how copyright works and the context of the question. You can register your copyright with the copyright office and still make it available with a permissive license; and not registering the copyright doesn't mean it isn't copyrighted.
    – ff524
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 3:15

1 Answer 1


Registering a copyright with the US Copyright Office is a legal formality that establishes a public record of your claim to the work. It is mainly useful if, in the future, you want to sue someone who infringes your copyright. Specifically,

  • Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, registration is necessary for works of U.S. origin.
  • If made before or within five years of publication, registration will establish prima facie evidence in court of the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in the certificate.
  • If registration is made within three months after publication of the work or prior to an infringement of the work, statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an award of actual damages and profits is available to the copyright owner.

These and some other similar benefits are described in this circular from the US Copyright Office.

Based on your post, you seem to have some misconceptions about how copyright works. Note that:

  • Even if you do not register the copyright, the work is still copyrighted. In the United States and many other countries, a creative work is protected by copyright automatically as soon as it is written down or otherwise placed in a fixed medium.
  • Even if you do register the copyright, you can still make the work available under a permissive license, such as a Creative Commons license. See Is Creative Commons against copyright? for more information. For example, with CC-BY-NC you can choose to allow most non-commercial uses of your work as long as it is attributed to you, but still prohibit others from selling your thesis as an expensive book on Amazon.
  • You mentioned that you want to "let people use my work and cite me appropriately." Copyright does not prevent people from doing either of those things. Even if you reserve all rights under copyright, people are still free to use the ideas in your thesis. Copyright only protects your expression of your ideas, i.e. the words or images you used to express your ideas. So copyright prohibits people from copying large parts of your thesis verbatim into their own, or from posting copies of your thesis on another website (unless you choose to allow those things by assigning a permissive license to the work), but not from building on your work (and citing you). See Does copyright protect the author's creative ideas? for more information.
  • You wrote "a thesis should not be copyrighted simply because I think of it as an extended paper." The vast majority of papers are also copyrighted.
  • 2
    Thanks for your great and detailed answer! It was enlightening.
    – ZanCoul
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 3:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .