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Graduate Writing Resources

What is fair use?

Fair use is described in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law.

It contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered “fair,” such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

It considers four (4) factors:

1. The purpose and character of the use
2. The nature of the copyrighted work
3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used
4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

How do I determine fair use?

Use the UMKC Copyright Fair Use Checklist to help you evaluate fair use.

This checklist was developed to help professors determine fair use for classroom teaching, but it can be used to determine fair use for publishing as well.

Create and keep documentation about your determination of fair use, in case it is ever called into question.

Copyright for Thesis & Dissertation Writers


As a thesis or dissertation writer, why do I need to know anything about copyright?

Because you're becoming an author. As an author, you have certain rights that you need to know about. You also have certain obligations (under the law) to other authors. If you plan to publish in the future, having even a basic understanding of copyright is to your benefit.

What do I need to know about copyright?

Section 106 of U.S. Copyright Law gives the copyright holder exclusive rights to:

  • copy or reproduce the work
  • make adaptations of the work (translations,
    revised editions, etc.)
  • control distribution of new copies of the work
  • perform the work publicly
  • display the work publicly

The author is not always the copyright holder. If the author transfers some or all of their exclusive copyrights to another party (say, a publisher), then that party has the above rights and the author does not.

At UMKC, the student is generally the copyright holder. The University of Missouri System's Collected Rules and Regulations, section 100.030 (A5) describes the terms and limitations surrounding student copyrights as it pertains to the work students produce while attending the university.

The term of copyright can be lengthy. Here is a handy guide, authored by Cornell University's Peter B. Hirtle, for determining the copyright term.

Do I need to register my thesis or dissertation?

No, but you should consider it. Though the rights protected under copyright are magically bestowed upon you the minute you start writing, you cannot enforce infringement cases in a court of law without registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office.  There may be other benefits with registration for you.

When you submit your thesis or dissertation through ProQuest, they automatically submit an application for you to the U.S. Copyright Office to register your copyright. They can also help you deposit a copy of your work with the Library of Congress.

When do I need to seek permission?

If you include someone else's work (images, charts, long quotations, tests, computer software, music, etc.) in your thesis or dissertation, you'll need to determine if your use is considered "fair use" or if you need to obtain permission from the copyright holder in order to include it.

Citing the source is not enough. You cite sources to avoid plagiarism, but you seek (and hopefully obtain) permission if the nature of including someone else's work goes beyond what is determined to be fair use.

Under these circumstances, you do not need to seek permission to include someone else's work (but you still need to cite them!):

  • The work is in the public domain. Use this handy guide, authored by Cornell University's Peter B. Hirtle, to determine if your work is in the public domain.
  • The work is published in an open access journal, is available under a Creative Commons license, or the author has otherwise explicitly granted permission.
  • You determine that the nature of your use constitutes "fair use."

How do I seek permission?

Columbia University's Copyright Advisory Office has some detailed information on how to locate a copyright holder and request permission. They even have sample letters you can use.

The Copyright Clearance Center has relationships with many authors and publishers. Through CCC, you are able to obtain permission, for a fee, for copyrighted works registered in their system. If an item is not listed on the CCC site, they can try to track down the copyright holder for you.