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I am just done with my Masters degree in one of the universities in Germany. I am wondering if I can make my Master's thesis open for public to download and read.

I am not talking about submitting it to a journal or a conference, I am just asking if I can put the PDF file I submitted to my professor on my website. My question is that if I do put on my website, will I run into copyright issues and stuff of that kind?

  • I'd be surprised if there wasn't some kind of national registry for theses in Germany. There is in France for example (theses.fr) and people usually post their work unless it is protected for confidentiality reasons (e.g. corporate sponsorship). It also seems normal for people to give out copies of their thesis for job applications, so I don't see why you couldn't post online. I'm not putting it as an answer because I'm not sure, but I think this would be the same case in Germany. – la femme cosmique Feb 18 '16 at 10:05
  • @lafemmecosmique: AFAIK master (and bachelor) theses are typically not put into any kind of central repository in Germany. My university asked for a number of copies, which stay with the grading professors plus one in the archive of the exam office (they sent it back to me some years later). PhD theses are often required to be published, typically by handing a specified number of copies to the university library who will then also register it with the german national library. – cbeleites Feb 18 '16 at 12:49
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In Germany, the student is typically owner of the copyright (including Verwertungsrechte) their thesis.
These theses are parts of exams (Prüfungsleistung). Such work must be solely produced by the student, and the thesis typically also contains a declaration specifying this. This implies that the work is owned by the student.

You can read through the forms you signed and the exam regulations (Prüfungsordnung): if no exclusive transfer of rights is mentioned, they are yours for sure. If an exclusive transfer is mentioned it is probably void according to the source I link below.


Exam regulations forbid that the professor (who's considered a public official person for the exams) or the university accept anything from the student that is not specified by the exam regulations. IP rights are not in that list. The university can and does ask for a certain number of copies of the thesis (in paper and/or electronically), this comes with a license to use these copies, e.g. to put then into their archive and to make them available in the university library (the same kind of license you get when buying a book). However, I have not yet seen an exclusive transfer of rights in that context. AFAIK the Prüfungsordnung can also specify that the thesis has to be published, though I have met that requirement only for PhD theses.

Students are typically not employees at the university. Often the exam rules explicitly forbid that students can be paid/hired by the university for the thesis. Thus, IP rights could only be transferred to the university by an explicit contract. However, contracts saying that "all transferable rights on the thesis go to university otherwise you cannot do your thesis here" are void because they are considered to be established under undue pressure to the student, and are considered acceptance of benefits by a public official (Vorteilsannahme). There seem to be ways of having a valid contract before the exam that transfers the IP to university, but I gather this is rather complicated to get right. After the exam is finished and the student has grades and certificates, valid contracts to transfer rights to the university can be negotiated.

Source and highly relevant reading (in German) Helmut Messer: Rechtsgrundsäte zu Diplomarbeiten.

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I don't know about Germany, so you will probably need to check with the university for their policy. I did my Master's degree in Canada and when I submitted my thesis I was required to sign a 'non-exclusive license' to the library to reproduce, publish, etc my thesis for non-commercial purposes. However, it was made clear that I retain full copyright ownership. In which case I could make it accessible on a website if I wished, or publish it and try to sell it at the local bookstore.

However, on a related note, the university claims joint ownership for any inventions which result from research conducted there. I don't think this is a universal policy, but is probably common. So, if relevant, patenting something from your thesis would probably need to involve the university.

  • Inventions are different: The written thesis is undisputedly the work of the student only. For an invention, more people could have been involved, e.g. the prof. However, whether the university has any rights in the invention depends on whether the student invented alone or not. The source I linked in my answer says that it is safest to negotiate rights transfer only after the exam is over. – cbeleites Feb 18 '16 at 12:35
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Any project done for an academic certificate is owned by the university, but as for public sharing under the right license (for academic usage) it will be accepted to be release, but its better for you to get an approval from the university.

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    sorry to downvote but this is at best true for your university and/or legislation. In fact it is wrong for Germany (about which the question is). Please add the countries/univiersities for which you know your answer applies. – cbeleites Feb 18 '16 at 11:41

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