Top copyright issues encountered by OSU graduate students

How can I copyright my work?  If you wrote it, you automatically own the copyright for it (unless you signed away the copyright to someone else).  There is no registration process or fee required for copyright. 

When I publish an article, do I have to sign over the copyright to the publisher?  No.  Publishers work diligently to get you to do so, but (except in rare cases) it is not a requirement.  It will take a bit of extra effort on your part and some push back against the publisher, but holding on to your copyright is worthwhile.  Think twice before signing a publication agreement that transfers your copyright.  Propose an edited publication agreement that excludes full transfer of your copyright.  OSU Libraries' Publishing page provides proposed wording endorsed by The Big Ten Academic Alliance to enable authors to maintain appropriate rights to their authored works.

What's the difference between Copyright and Open Access.  Copyright deals with whether others are permitted to re-use your work.  Open Access deals with permitting others to view your work.  They are two distinctly different things. Whoever holds the copyright controls the rights for re-use.  Just because something is available via Open Access does not mean that others can re-use its content.

Can I post my article on my own webpage or sites such as Researchgate?

  • If you hold the copyright to your article (see above), you can legally post it.
  • If the publisher holds the copyright, you must adhere to the publisher's rules.
  • A quick and easy way to learn the rules of a given publisher is to visit SHERPA/ROMEO.


If the publisher holds the copyright, what options do I have?

  • If the work reported in your article was funded by a US funding agency after 2008, the article must be made open access eventually (typically publishers can impose a 6-12 month "embargo" period during which distribution is restricted, although there might be no embargo period).  Even when the embargo is over, different publishers have different rules as to what form of the article can be posted (publisher's version, rich-text version, etc.).
  •  Regardless of whether your work was funded by a US government agency or not, an easy-to-use resource for determining what you can and cannot post and when you can post it is the SHERPA/ROMEO site.  Simply go to the site, type in the journal title, and read the rules for that journal.


How do I get permission to use someone else's copyrighted work?  You need to request permission from the copyright holder (usually the publisher), either through the publisher or through the Copyright Clearance Center.  Below are the steps for using the Copyright Clearance Center and links to pages containing the permission policies of popular publishers (their rules for posting of articles, re-use of figures, etc.).  Either route (Copyright Clearance Center or directly through the publisher) is acceptable.  If the author holds the copyright, you might or might not need to request permission from them (depending on the type of copyright they have imposed).

It should be noted that copyright rules for re-use of figures, etc. in theses and dissertations are generous (typically no fee), however, authors still need to obtain permission for re-use.

Using the Copyright Clearance Center

1.  In the search box under “GET PERMISSIONS” enter the journal or book title (or ISSN/ISBN)

2.  Scroll down and click on the TITLE of the appropriate edition/volume, format (e-journal, print, year range, etc.)

3.  Scroll down until you get to the Permission Type named “Republish or display content” and click on "Republish in a thesis/dissertation"

4. Click on the Price & Order button

5.  Complete the questions (to avoid fees, choose "Main Product" from the "I want rights for ..." question. 

6.  Click on Get Price button

Permission Policies of popular publishers: 

American Chemical Society American Institute of Physics
CRC Press (Taylor and Francis) Electrochemical Society
Elsevier IEEE
Royal Society of Chemistry Springer-Nature

Don't see the publisher you're looking for?  Try searching the web for "copyright permissions for [publisher's name]."


What options do I have when I submit my thesis or dissertation to OhioLINK? The following is information about your copyright for your thesis or dissertation.  For information about using other authors' copyrighted materials, see above. 

OSU Graduate School requires that you submit your final document to OhioLink Electronic Theses and  Dissertations.  During the submission process, you will be given several choices as to the type of copyright you wish to have associated with your document.  Regardless of which choice you make, you will still own the copyright to your document.*  The choices simply determine how much control you wish to exercise over re-use of your document's content.  Below are the choices you will be given with a short explanation of each.

  • "Copyright, all rights reserved.  My ETD will be available under the "Fair Use" terms of copyright law.  This may be required by third-party publishers you work with to publish your paper commercially." [This is the strictest set of conditions.  If you choose this option, no one can use the content of your document without your permission, unless they are using the content under Fair Use terms ( If you have had commercial sponsorship or are working with a commercial publisher, this option might be required because the commercial entity might want to restrict use.]
  • "Copyright, some rights reserved.  My ETD may be copied and distributed only for non-commercial purposes and may not be modified.  All use must give me credit as the original author.  This is the Creative Commons "Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works" license." [This is a less strict set of conditions.  It allows people to copy and use material from your document as long as they are not using it commercially (to make money).  They are not allowed to modify anything that they copy and they must cite you as the creator.] 
  • "Copyright, some rights reserved.  My ETD may be copied and distributed only for non-commercial purposes and may be modified if the modified version is distributed with these same permissions.  All use must give me credit as the original author.  This is the Creative Commons "Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike" license." [This is the least strict set of conditions.  It allows people to copy and use material from your document as long as they are not using it commercially (to make money).  They are allowed to modify the content, however, if they do so they must assign the same copyright that you used to their newly modified version.  In other words, the content can be continually modified, but each new author must ensure that others are permitted to modify it if desired.  As with the other two options, all users must cite you as the original creator.]

Again, regardless of which choice you make, you will still own the copyright to your document.* 

Additionally, you will be given the option of placing an "embargo" on your document.  By doing so, your document will not be made publicly available during the embargo period. Students can impose an embargo of  up to a maximum of 5 years.   During the embargo period, the title and abstract of your document will appear in the public catalog accompanied by a note indicating that the full document is currently embargoed.

FAQ's about OhioLink's Electronic Theses and Dissertations

*You retain the copyright to all content in your theses or dissertation unless you have signed the copyright (to all or part of your document) over to someone else and/or unless you have included content which is copyrighted by someone else, in which case that content is not under your copyright.


Is there more than one set of possible restrictions associated with copyright?  Yes.  The default copyright rules associated with something you (or someone else) have written keeps "all rights reserved."  This means that the holder of the copyright gets to determine whether others can re-use the content (with exceptions for fair use, described below).  By using (free) Creative Commons Licenses, however, you can set aside the default "all rights reserved" rules and can label your work with various sets of rules.  For example, you can indicate that others are permitted to re-use your work for any purpose as long as they don't change anything and as long as they give you full credit.  A full list of the various Creative Commons Licenses is available online.

What is Fair Use?  Copyright rules permits the re-use of copyrighted materials (without permission) in certain circumstances associated with criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.  Details Fair Use are available online.

What happens if I violate copyright laws?  The consequences for breaking copyright laws can range from a warning to fines and/or prison time, depending on the nature of the violation and the type of action taken by the copyright holder(s).

For more general information about copyright, visit the OSU Libraries Copyright Services page