Copyright protection of your thesis exists once you've written it -- you don't necessarily need to do anything more. The copyright for your thesis will last for the length of your life plus 70 years. Determining whether you should take the additional step of registering your thesis’s copyright depends on several factors.
Copyright is an intellectual property right that gives you the exclusive right to make, sell and distribute copies of your thesis and to create new works based on it. If someone uses the material in your thesis without your consent, you may sue the person to stop the infringement. You may also receive compensation for any losses that you incurred as a result of the infringement.
U.S. copyright law does not require authors to provide copyright notices in their works. However, displaying a copyright notice in your thesis will alert readers that your work is copyrighted. In general, a copyright notice helps deter infringement. It also clearly shows who owns the copyright and provides the year in which the work was copyrighted.
Although your thesis will have copyright protection once it exists in a fixed, tangible form, registering your copyright will provide additional benefits. Registering the copyright within three months of your thesis’s publication -- or before any infringing act occurs -- makes it much easier to stop an infringing act and to recover money from an infringer. Copyright registration creates a legal presumption that your copyright is valid. It also allows you to recover up to $150,000 in damages without having to prove any actual monetary harm. The U.S. Copyright Office charges a $35 fee for processing an electronic copyright registration and a $50 fee for processing a paper copyright registration.
Whether copyrighting your thesis is worth the time, effort and cost depends on your specific circumstances. Factors to weigh in making this decision include the nature of your thesis, the likelihood and relative impact of an infringement, and your personal finances. If you’re worried about infringement or plan to publish the thesis as a monograph or e-book, it may be worthwhile to register the copyright.