Skip to main content

Copyright Resources to Support Publishing and Teaching

A guide for faculty, staff, and students at Penn about how to obtain, manage, and understand copyright issues for their work

Additional resources

Publishing dissertations

  • Dissertations are often the initial source of publications (books and articles) for recent Ph.D. students

  • Some publishers will not publish articles if the original dissertation on which they are based is online

  • Other publishers regard dissertations as a kind of “working paper” which will be heavily edited for their journal, and therefore do not regard online publication negatively

  • If in doubt about whether you may publish your scholarship online, go to SHERPA/RoMEO, an international listing of publisher copyright policies, entry provides a summary of the publisher's policy for making previously published material available open access, including what version of an article can be published or archived, where it can be deposited, and any conditions that are attached to that deposit.

  • Though this is not directly applicable to dissertations, publishers that have green or blue ratings are probably more likely to support open access dissertations than publishers with yellow or white ratings.

Using Sherpa/RoMEO

  • Go to

  • Type in the publisher or journal and see what color is assigned to that publisher.  The color-coding differentiates among four categories of publishing (or archiving) rights: 

RoMEO color

Archiving policy


can archive pre-print and post-print or publisher's version/PDF


can archive post-print (ie final draft post-refereeing) or publisher's version/PDF


can archive pre-print (ie pre-refereeing)


archiving not formally supported

Dissertations and copyright

  • Once you write a dissertation, it is automatically protected by U.S. copyright law with you as the author

  •  You do not need to register the copyright with the U.S. copyright office

  • You are protected by U.S. copyright law as the author of your dissertation whether it is an online or print version

  • Registering a dissertation with the copyright office provides additional protections if there is a court case

  • It is a good idea to register copyright if you are working on patentable research or other research which may have monetary or commercial value

  •  If you chose to register your copyright go to, do not pay ProQuest in order to register your copyright (they basically provide the same form)

Dissertations and Patents

Any inventions that you make as part of your research for your degree and disclosed as part of your dissertation, and any patent or other intellectual property rights arising there from, are governed by the policies of the University of Pennsylvania, including the Patent and Tangible Research Property Policies and Procedures and Policy Relating to Copyrights and Commitment of Effort for Faculty.

In many cases, if there is a patent or other form of intellectual property concern, you may wish to embargo your dissertation.

For more information, please contact the University’s Center for Technology Transfer at
or by calling the CTT Help Desk at 215-898-9591.

Using copyrighted material in a dissertation

  • If you use copyrighted material (images, extensive quotation from other sources, or any other use that may exceed "fair use" - see "Copyright Basics" for more information on Fair Use), you must obtain permission to utilize that material in your dissertation

  • For more information on how to obtain permission see "Obtaining permission."

  • You might also want to consult ProQuest's Copyright Guide on how to obtain permission for copyrighted materials

Are there alternatives to avoid copyright complications?

There are currently several initiatives that help authors to license and use content

  • Creative Commons - - is a tool that helps authors specify how they would like their work used.

  • Creative Commons also priovides a search tool - which searches Google to find images, music, or other materials authors may wish to use in their work.

Using your own (previously published) articles in a dissertation

  • If part of your dissertation contains articles or book chapters that have been published elsewhere, you must obtain permission from the publisher to include that content in your dissertation.

  • For more information on how to obtain permission from a publisher see "Obtaining Permission."

Issues to consider when publishing your dissertation

  • Putting a dissertation online typically increases its visibility, which is beneficial to making your work more widely read

  • It may also increase the chances that others may use your ideas inappropriately (e.g. without proper citation)

  • It also increases the likelihood that you will be able to detect plagiarism if it occurs (whereas publishing in print makes it more difficult to detect)

Resources to help think about how to publish your dissertation

Several Professional Associations have discussed the pros and cons of publishing dissertations online

There are also University Statements on Dissertations that include tips on publishing and intellectual property issues.

Embargoing/Delaying Publication of the Dissertation

In cases where papers are in press, patents are pending, where the student is publishing a book or article heavily based on material in the dissertation, or where there are other intellectual property concerns, it may be beneficial for you to delay publication. Students should discuss with their advisor whether a delay in publication is necessary or advisable. 

Need help?

For further assistance with copyright issues, contact

For questions about use of materials on reserve, contact Lori Rowland or the librarian at your reserve location.