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Copyright and Your Thesis or Dissertation

This guide answers common copyright questions related to theses and dissertations, including reusing your own and others' content.

Reusing Your Published Work

Reusing your own articles as portions of your thesis or dissertation is common in many fields, especially in science and engineering. You need to consider both copyright law and Graduate School policy when using material you have previously published.

Copyright and Publishing Agreements

When publishing an article that you anticipate using in your thesis or dissertation, you should retain the rights necessary to reuse the article in your thesis or dissertation. Many default publishing agreements allow the author(s) to reuse published material in later publications such as theses or dissertations.

One thing to watch out for is a limitation on commercial reuse. If you are writing a doctoral dissertation, the Graduate School will require that you license ProQuest to distribute your dissertation. Since ProQuest is a commercial entity, doctoral candidates wishing to use an article in their dissertation need to retain the right to use their article commercially in a dissertation. If you explain that your institution requires this, that should help. If you run into trouble, contact the Office of Scholarly Communications and Copyright for assistance. This does not apply to masters' theses, as the Graduate School does not require masters' candidates to license them to ProQuest.

If you have already signed a publishing agreement for an article you want to use in your thesis or dissertation, the first step is to review the publishing agreement to see if you retained the necessary rights (including commercial reuse rights, if you are using it in a doctoral dissertation). If you did not retain the necessary rights, you should seek additional permission from your publisher. As an author, it's generally best to begin by contacting the person who sent your author agreement, often a journal editor. They may direct you to use the permission request system used by the general public, but your request may also be treated differently because you are the author.

Graduate School Policy

Penn State Graduate School policy governs how and whether you can use in your thesis or dissertation material you have previously published, including material on which you had coauthors. Please consult the Graduate School's Thesis and Dissertation Guide for the most up-to-date information. It is also helpful to talk with your advisor and others in your discipline about disciplinary norms.


This guide is based in part on Copyright for Dissertations, a guide from the University of Michigan Library Copyright Office, which is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.