UW Graduate School

October 19, 2017

Navigating Licensing Options for a Thesis or Dissertation

Which license(s) should I use or create when publishing my doctoral dissertation?  – Anonymous 

This week’s answer is courtesy of Elizabeth Bedford, scholarly publishing outreach librarian, Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Congratulations on getting to the home stretch of your dissertation! As part of your degree requirements, you will be depositing your dissertation into ResearchWorks, UW’s online open repository, and it will be important for you to understand your license options through this process.

Some background: being able to access something online does not mean that readers can use it any way they’d like – US law gives copyright holders a set of exclusive rights over their works, which include distributing or adapting the material. Normally if a reader wants to make use of a work in one of the ways protected by copyright, they have to get explicit permission. But what if a copyright holder is fine with some uses, and wants to communicate that to potential users?

Licenses are the mechanism by which a copyright holder allows uses of their work, and traditionally they have been used for individual permissions. However, Creative Commons licenses work on a broad scale, allowing the copyright holder to let an audience know that they automatically give permission for certain uses under certain conditions. CC licenses make things clear and simple for both the copyright holder and the user, and have been proven legally sound, which is not something you get with a DIY license.

CC licenses can be very restrictive or completely permissive, with many shades in between. If you want something more restrictive than anything-goes CC0, you can choose one of the ‘BY’ licenses, which require others at minimum to credit your work. You’ll make decisions prohibiting or allowing combinations of three types of use: 1) commercial use; 2) adaptations; and 3) ‘viral’ licensing. This is a very personal decision, but there’s lots online about factors copyright holders should consider and why some copyright holders make the decisions they do.

You’ll notice that I’ve been careful to say ‘copyright holder’ rather than ‘author.’ For UW dissertations, the author always starts out as the copyright holder. But if you enter into negotiations with a publisher, be aware that sometimes publishers ask you to completely transfer your copyright to them. If that happens, you no longer have the right to make licensing choices over the work and the publisher gets the final say. So read the fine print of your publishing contracts!

My office is here to help with this, so if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email us.