Part I: On the Need to provide accurate copyright information to ETD Authors
In a recent workshop on copyright and publishing for science graduate students here at Texas A&M, participants were asked who owns the copyright in their theses or dissertations. Only a minority of students (19%) correctly identified themselves as the copyright owner of their graduate works, suggesting that ETD authors suffer from some pretty fundamental copyright uncertainty and confusion.
This example illustrates just one of the many points of copyright confusion and uncertainty among graduate students today. Other questions raised in this (and most other copyright and publishing workshops here in Aggieland) range from “How to copyright a work” to “Who owns the copyright in a jointly-authored article derived from a student’s dissertation.”
ETD Authors express uncertainty about:
- which copyrighted materials are okay to include in the ETD;
- when they need to ask permission to include copyrighted materials in the ETD;
- why they are expected to pay a third party (e.g., ProQuest) to “copyright” their work;
- who owns the copyright in an article when the research was funded by the government;
- & many more topics to boot!
If our students are to manage their research and scholarship effectively, they need a clear understanding of copyright and publishing principles. And if they are to clear their ETDs through the Graduate School in a timely manner, they need accurate information about copyrights and publishing issues at every point of contact with ETD professionals.
Why are our ETD authors so uncertain and confused about copyright and publishing? Well, a (admittedly) non-scientific study of ETD guidance documents on the Web today provides some clues. The fact is that many Grad Office websites , university catalogs, and Library guides are purveying myths and misinformation about copyrights and copy wrongs. Furthermore, this misinformation is being supplied by well-meaning and trusted authorities, exacerbating grad student confusion and insecurity about their author rights and responsibilities. The ubiquity of inaccurate copyright information for graduate students is, IMO, alarming.
We ©an do better.
This posting presents the most commons areas of (c)opyright confusion among ETD Authors, and provides facts to clear up the myths. Welcome to We Can Do Better, Part I. A future posting — We Can Do Better, Part II – will provide resources and tips about excellent and accurate copyright and publishing education for ETD. Please stay tuned.
Copyright Myth #1. ETD Authors must do something to get their works protected by copyright.
Take the following guidelines to ETD authors posted at the website of a particular Office of Graduate Studies (all examples provided in this posting are current and authentic, but have been anonymized)
Similar to these instructions are those proffered by another graduate school in their Guide for Formatting and Submitting Doctoral Dissertations and Master’s Theses:
And this graduate school of dentistry must have taken their copyright guidelines from the same playbook:
Less-than-accurate instructions such as those above mislead students into thinking that they have to *do something* to secure copyright protection for their ETDs. And the misinformation coming from universities is further aggravated by publishers, however unintentionally, as demonstrated on this FAQ page from a commercial ETD distributor:
|FACT #1: A U.S. thesis or dissertation is “under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.” [Source: US Copyright Office, Copyright in General, http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-general.html#mywork]|
Copyright Myth #2. Only works carrying a copyright notice are protected by copyright.
Moreover, the university guidelines shown above mistakenly equate placement of a copyright notice with the act of copyrighting a work. In fact, a work is copyrighted without presence of a copyright notice.
|FACT #2: US Copyright law has not required use of a copyright notice on copyrighted works since March 1, 1989. Copyright works without a copyright notice are protected under US law. However, the copyright notice is often recommended “because it informs the public that the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the event that a work is infringed, if a proper notice of copyright appears on the published copy or copies to which a defendant in a copyright infringement suit had access, then no weight shall be given to such a defendant’s interposition of a defense based on innocent infringement in mitigation of actual or statutory damages”. [Source: US Copyright Office, Copyright Basics, http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ01.pdf]|
Copyright Myth #3a. Registering a work with the US Copyright Office is the same as copyrighting the work.
Copyright Myth #3b. Using the services of ProQuest is necessary to registering a copyrighted work
Another common point of confusion among ETD authors concerns the process of registering a copyright work with the US Copyright Office. Registering a copyrighted work is not the same thing as copyrighting the work, but the two concepts seem to be used interchangeably by well-meaning yet confused ETD professionals. The tendency to link copyrighting, registration and ProQuest’s copyright registration services give credence to the pernicious myth that the commercial ETD distributor is somehow qualifed or responsible for protecting a student’s copyright. This is just not true!
It may be useful to ETD authors to know about the optional service that ProQuest provides to act as the student’s agent in submitting copyright registration paperwork to the US Copyright Office. But it does our graduate students a great disservice to mislead them into believing that ProQuest is eligible to register US copyrighted works, or has an exclusive role as agent for the copyright registration process. Their service is entirely optional, voluntary and non-exclusive.
Below are a few real-life examples illustrating how copyrighting and copyright registration are oft confused in advice to ETD authors:
| FACT #4: Copyright registration for US works is handled exclusively by the US Copyright Office. Students are able to register their theses and dissertations directly via the Web for a fee of $35. [Source: http://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-register.html]
Students may also choose to use the services of an agent willing to submit their copyright registration to the US Copyright Office for an additional fee. Such agents are in no way affiliated with the US Copyright Office and are offering these services as a convenience to their own customers.
Copyright Myth #4. Including excerpts or all of a copyrighed work in the ETD requires permission, unless the amount used is less than <
fill in the blank>
The last point of copyright confusion among ETD Authors, and some of the professionals advising them, relates to the inclusion of other people’s copyrighted material in the ETD. It is fairly common to find copyright advice cautioning students to always secure permissions before including any third-party copyrighted work in their ETD. Understandably, such advice may be offered to minimize the risk of copyright infringement for the institution or the publisher. But a permissions-are-always-required approach also poses significant risk to the integrity of the ETD author’s research, if s/he feels the need to remove critical content because permission can’t be secured. Students are often legally allowed to reuse copyrighted material in their ETD’s without permission under the provision of Fair Use, an important section of US Copyright law (US Code, Title 17, Section 107).
| FACT #5: Using copyrighted material to support one’s research argument in a thesis or dissertation (e.g., to illustrate a point, support an argument, etc.) is likely to fall under Fair Use when the amount used is justified by the purpose of the use. There are no numeric cutoffs or guidelines in US Copyright Law that limit how much of a work may be included. [Source:Association of Research Libraries, Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Academic and Research Libraries, http://www.arl.org/storage/documents/publications/code-of-best-practices-fair-use.pdf ]
The examples shared above illustrate the types of copyright misinformation and myths that our ETD Authors encounter in their course of their graduate school experience. In We Can Do Better, Part II we’ll look at some great examples of excellent, accurate and user-friendly copyright materials available for our ETD Authors today.