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Copyright and Publishing Your Dissertation: Step 4: Address Publication Issues

A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Materials, Publishing Choices, and Your Rights as an Author

STEP 4: Address Publication Issues

⇒ Address publication issues

  • Your dissertation will be available through ProQuest and published open access online in eScholarship. Step 4 helps you consider your rights as an author when your dissertation is published in this manner. You should also consult the UC Berkeley Graduate Division's Dissertation Filing Guidelines for more on publishing your dissertation.


⇒ Should you register your copyright?

  • As explained in the Understand Copyright Basics page, copyright is automatically created once your original work is fixed in a tangible medium (such as being saved on your computer hard drive or in cloud storage). You continue to own copyright in your dissertation unless and until you transfer your copyright to another party. Thus, you do not need to register copyright in your dissertation in order to be the copyright holder.
  • However, registering copyright in your dissertation offers distinct advantages (see p. 7 of the Copyright Office circular). First, registering your work creates public record evidence that you are indeed the author and owner. Second, registration allows for greater enforcement of your copyright against an infringer or plagiarist, enabling you to file suit and later making available statutory damages (set out in Title 17, Section 504 of the U.S. Code), which range from $750-$150,000 plus attorney's fees per copyright infringement. 
  • So, it may be in your best interest to register copyright for your dissertation. You can register copyright through the Copyright Office's website for a fee of $35, or through the ProQuest ETDAdmin system when you submit your PDF; doing so through ProQuest costs $55.


⇒ Can you publish open access immediately?

  • What happens once you submit your dissertation electronically?
    • As a UC Berkeley student, once your dissertation is submitted electronically through the ProQuest online administration system, it will thereafter be published open access online in eScholarship and electronically via the Library catalog. 

    • UC's system-wide Office of Scholarly Communications explains more about this process generally (check out their Open Access Dissertations & Theses page). For the UC Berkeley-specific publishing protocol, please review the Graduate Division's Dissertation Filing Guidelines. 

  • Advantages to Publishing Open Access Immediately
    • Making your work available to be read online immediately in eScholarship or ProQuest has advantages.  

    • First, it clearly establishes when your work was created and published, which are powerful resources in preventing or combating plagiarism. Others will be able to discover your prior publication.  

    • Second, it can help build your academic reputation. Once your dissertation is published open access, researchers around the world will be able to read and download your work, and can begin citing you in their own publications. (Check out these studies on the advantages of open access publishing on citation.) Citation of your dissertation by others can be offered as evidence of research significance in employment reviews.  

    • For more on the value of immediate open access, please see: 

      • UC Berkeley Graduate Division's guidance letter, in which they explain that, "Knowledge of the work of younger scholars may be increased by promoting discovery beyond limited professional networks." Likewise, research available through searches on the Internet can promote professional contacts international in scope and interdisciplinary in reach.

      • There's also a great overview of the value of publishing dissertations open access in Hillary Corbett, ETDs and the Consequences of Openness.


⇒ When might you want to delay open access publication?

  • What are embargoes?
    • Embargoes are a delay in making your work available online. You should consult the UC Berkeley Graduate Division's Dissertation Filing Guidelines for an explanation of when embargoes are appropriate. 

  • Pending patent applications, privacy disclosures, professional ethics concerns
    • You may wish to consider embargoing when publishing open online immediately would risk "disclosure of patentable rights in the work before a patent can be granted, similar disclosures detrimental to the rights of the author, or disclosures of facts about persons or institutions before professional ethics would permit."  (See the Dissertation Filing Guidelines linked above.)

  • Cultural Heritage Sites, Personal Risks
    • You may also wish to consider an embargo if there is substantial concern that disclosure of geographic locations or persons could put the materials at those sites or particular individuals at risk. For instance, perhaps you have a situation where disclosure of a burial site could subject artifacts to looting. Alternatively, perhaps your scholarship could threaten the safety of individuals in militaristic regimes who could be punished for having spoken out. These are concerns and precautions to discuss with your dissertation chair in considering an embargo.
  • Publisher or discipline-specific requirements
    • You should check with your advisors and the field of publishers you are considering about their recommendations.

    • Certain publishers in particular disciplines may consider dissertations to be prior publications, and/or limit their consideration of a subsequent manuscript based on the dissertation for a first book deal. Some authors may therefore wish to embargo due to concern that open access availability of their dissertations will impact consideration of subsequent publications that they base upon their dissertations. 

  • Studies and analysis of these issues
    • Recent studies show that academic publishers typically view prior open access publication as a means to improve acceptance for a book deal due to increased awareness of your work. While numbers vary significantly by discipline, a 2013 study on electronic theses and dissertations indicates that more than 90% of university presses will consider an open access ETD for publication. (See also a 2011 survey supporting the same.) Keep in mind, too, that your dissertation will be revised and rewritten significantly if/when you shape it into a manuscript for a first book. Most publishers accordingly view this as entirely new work. 
    • For a comprehensive review of these issues, and to address questions you may have about the impact on future publishing of your dissertation being open, check out: Cirasella, J., & Thistlethwaite, P. (2017). Open access and the graduate author: A dissertation anxiety manual. In K. L. Smith & K. A. Dickson (Eds.), Open access and the future of scholarly communication: Implementation (pp. 203-224). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. 


⇒ Do you want to license your work?

  • A license beyond fair use
    • As a condition to graduation, and in support of the purpose of graduate education to make your work available for other scholars, UC Berkeley's Graduate Division requires that you make your work available online in eScholarship. (Again, please review the Graduate Division's Dissertation Filing Guidelines.)

    • As with any other copyrighted work, other scholars can make fair use of your dissertation in their own research. Since you own copyright over your dissertation, however, you can decide whether you want to license your work beyond what fair use already allows.

  • Consider your choices
    • There are several reasons why you might wish to license your work. One reason could be to contribute to knowledge building and scientific or artistic progress. Certainly, people can already make fair use of your material, but by licensing it you are encouraging thus facilitating their use of your work. Another reason might be that making it easier for other people to use your material could translate into them using your work more often--which means being cited more often, and increasing your scholarly impact and profile

    • On the other hand, some publishers might treat your dissertation as a prior publication, which you might not want to license even further than fair use already allows. 

    • So, before you decide to license your dissertation, consult with publishers in your field and your dissertation advisors to assess whether licensing could impact your ability to secure a subsequent first book contract. Usually your first book is substantially different from your dissertation after significant required editing, but it is always best to explore the contours of publishing in your discipline.

  • How to license your work
    • If you do wish to license your dissertation, one option is to use a Creative Commons license. Creative Commons licenses allow copyright holders to prescribe the scope of uses (beyond fair use) that others are able to make of their work--while still retaining copyright ownership for the creator (that is, you are licensing your work for others to use, not transferring your copyright ownership). 

    • If you choose to use a Creative Commons license, be sure to make the selection both in ProQuest and include a notation on your copyright page in the dissertation, itself, that your work is being licensed. This way, when people find your dissertation on eScholarship, they will see a "badge" showing the license, and will also be able to refer back to the written license in your document, itself.