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Copyright Information

The Thesis and Dissertation Office does not  evaluate submitted manuscripts  for copyright compliance - that is the responsibility of the student author and his/her thesis or dissertation committee.

Copyright protects the original expression contained in a work (e.g., selection and arrangement of entries in the yellow pages of a phone book). Expression means the words, sounds, or images that an author uses to express an idea or describe a process, fact or discovery. Copyright protects the expression but not the underlying conceptual or factual materials. This generally is effective for the period of the author's life and fifty years after death. For anonymous works, the effective term is seventy-five years from publication or one hundred years from creation. Copyrights for works published prior to 1978 under previous law have a potential duration of seventy-five years. Upon expiration of copyright or forfeiture of copyright, works become part of the public domain and, as such, are free for all to use.

U.S. government publications are considered public domain; state and local government publications are NOT. If new works are comprised "preponderantly" of such publications, then the new author must state in a notice that copyright excludes those portions of the new work. Works from magazines, journals, newspapers, think tanks, etc., that have been created by employees paid to write or assemble information for specific use in a company's publication are copyrighted by the company (employer), not the writer (employee).

An author's copyright rights commence the moment the work is created and can be transferred, sold, willed, given away, or rented, in whole or in part, to anyone the author designates. When a work is published, the author's rights generally are transferred to the publisher by written agreement.

Rights included under copyright regulation are the following:

  1. The right to make copies
  2. The right to distribute copies to the public (to publish the work)
  3. The right to make derivative works (translations, abridgements, adaptations)
  4. The right of public display (includes on-line database publishing)
  5. The right of public performance (doesn't really apply to publishing)
  6. The moral right against mutilation and misattribution (failure to credit the author as the source of a work, or crediting an author with  works he/she has not produced).

The first two rights are basic rights and generally retained by the publisher. However, subsidiary rights (3-6) are often licensed by the publisher to a third party with expertise in a particular market (film production, foreign language, book clubs, etc.). Licensing of subsidiary rights also includes granting permissions for such things as photocopying for classroom usage, quoting, or reproduction of a part(s) of the original material within some new work. Additionally, some works may have trademark protection covering the title and/or characters (the title and/or character cannot be used without permission).

To use any other author's copyrighted work, whether or not it has been published, one needs to acquire the owner's permission in writing, unless the usage is intended as "fair use." A sample permission request (word document) for an author or company is available . Permission is not required for U.S. government publications because they are in the public domain. Regardless, of whether permission is required or "fair use" is applied, the author should always credit the sources used.

"Fair use" is a fuzzy term but considers these factors:

  1. purpose and character of use (whether the intended use is for commercial or nonprofit educational purposes);
  2. nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the whole copyrighted work;
  4. effect of the usage on the potential market for the copyrighted work.

Fair use allows quotation from other works and reproduction of small amounts of graphic or illustrative material for review or criticism or to bolster the new author's arguments. Original works should not be quoted out of context. No more than a few sentences or paragraphs should be quoted and that material quoted should never predominate over the new author's thoughts, ideas, or materials. Proportion of quoted material to the whole (whether in one place or scattered throughout) is always the key consideration; quoting one hundred words from a source of one thousand words is less likely to be acceptable than quoting one hundred words from a source of ten thousand words. The importance of the quoted material to the original work is a key consideration; does the quote form the substance of the original material, is it ancillary to the main idea of the original?

The key for using copyrighted material in your thesis or dissertation is this:  WHEN IN DOUBT, ALWAYS SEEK WRITTEN PERMISSION. It is incumbent on the student author and his/her thesis or dissertation committee to meet copyright compliance and to request copyright permissions when necessary.  [The preceding information was summarized from The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th edition (1993). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.] 

For further information, please consult the CSULB Copyright and Fair Use Policy and UMI's Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis (pdf).