Why Should I Copyright My Thesis?

By Grygor Scott

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 Basics

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.

Copyright Notice

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.

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Copyright Registration

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.

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Is Copyrighting Really Necessary?


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How to Apply for a Copyright

Copyright law protects works of authorship, including art and software algorithms. To fully protect your work, you must create it and then register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. U.S. copyright law imposes both civil and criminal penalties against infringement. If you register your work, you can obtain damages of up to $150,000 per infringement without proving that the infringement caused you any economic damages. The procedure for creating and registering your copyright is straightforward and simple.

What Can a Business Do if Its Copyrighted Material Has Been Copied by a Competitor?

Copyright law protects your work against being copied by a competitor. However, protection is not absolute. If your competitor has copied your work, you must first determine whether the act counts as infringement under copyright law. Before filing a lawsuit, it could be advantageous to send a warning letter.

How to Copyright a Quotation

Quotations are not typically copyrighted; rather, the work of which the quotation is a part of is the copyrighted work. It can be difficult to ensure that a quotation receives copyright protection because "fair use" permits excerpts of a copyrighted work to be used for limited scholarly and educational purposes. However, there are several steps authors can take to protect their quotations and, depending on the length of quotation and how it is published, they may be able to enforce their copyrights.


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