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Guide to CaltechTHESIS

Theses must be submitted in electronic form as part of the graduation requirements for Caltech. This guide serves as a tool for this process.

Copyright Ownership of your Thesis

Who owns the copyright to my thesis?

As the author, you own the copyright to your thesis.  You are therefore in general free to reuse its contents in any way you choose.  The only thing that might prevent you is if you have already signed over copyright to one of your chapters to a third party, say a publisher of the article you are including in your thesis. 

Should I register for copyright?

The most important thing to understand about your thesis is that as the author, you own the copyright to your thesis. As a Caltech student, you are free to seek the advice of qualified attorneys in Caltech's Office of the General Counsel to ask for help in understanding your Intellectual Property rights. Copyright law involves many complex issues that are relevant to you as a graduate student, both in protecting your own work and in referencing the work of others. This page does not in any way substitute for the legal advice of qualified attorneys.

Copyright protection automatically exists from the time the work is created in fixed form (including electronic) and the copyright immediately becomes the property of the author. Registration with the United States Copyright Office is not required to secure copyright, but it is a legal formality to place on public record the basic facts of a particular copyright. Although not a condition of copyright protection itself, registering the copyright is ordinarily necessary before any infringement suits can be filed in court.

Register your thesis copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office

Additional reading

Including Your Own Published Material in your Thesis

Guidelines for reusing your own publications

Caltech allows you to include your own published articles as chapters in your thesis.  You must, however observe the following guidelines:

  • You must be one of the listed authors.
  • You must have permission from the publisher to reuse the article as a thesis chapter.
  • You must list the publication in your Published Content and Contributions page(s) of your thesis.
  • The thesis chapter should be presented as a thesis chapter. Do not use the publisher's layout. Use a copy of the Accepted pre-formatted version of the article if you have it.
  • The bibliography style in the article may need to be re-formatted to match the style throughout the thesis.  Use an online citation generator to reformat your bibliography(ies).

Inclusion of published content

  • Check for copyright restrictions in our Publishers Policies section
  • If necessary, contact the copyright owners (usually publishers) by email for permission to include the published material in your thesis. Save the email responses and upload them as withheld documents into your CaltechTHESIS record.
  • Add citations and short statements of your contributions for the published material in your thesis' Published Content and Contributions page(s).
    • Include a bibliography of all published, or accepted-for-publication, material included in the thesis. Include the DOI URLs as part of the citations whenever possible.
    • If your thesis includes a chapter that has been submitted or accepted for publication, note that information at the end of the citation for the article as presented to the publisher. You can add [Submitted] or [Accepted] as appropriate. We do not expect journal titles as part of the citation for submitted papers. If you do not have a DOI assigned yet by the publisher, you may also omit that information.
  • Most publishers require that citations be added to the article/chapter included in the thesis.
    • They usually have a specific citation format they want you to follow.  Check the publisher's website.
    • The citation is generally added at the bottom of the first page of the chapter included in the thesis.
  • Add the DOI URL to the Related URLS field in the Description tab of your CaltechTHESIS record.  Identify the link's relation to your thesis in the Description field (for example: "Article adapted for ch. 2").

Including Someone Else's Material in your Thesis

Guidelines for borrowing someone else's material for my thesis

Do contact the Library for help in navigating these questions!
As in all things legal, this is not legally binding information.  Please do not hesitate to seek the advice of qualified attorneys in Caltech's Office of the General Counsel.

  • Simple quotes do not fall into this category.  You must still add the quote into your thesis as it appears in the original text, add quotation marks, and cite the source properly.
  • The rule of thumb is that if you are not the author/creator for the material, then you should ask for permission if you want to borrow it. Save their responses to upload as Copyright Permissions in your CaltechTHESIS record.
  • If the item (such as a figure or a block of text) is published in an article, find out who the copyright owner of that item is.
    • Online articles: Most U.S. publishers use the Copyright Clearance Center's RightsLink program to manage permissions for them. You will likely be able to fill out an online permissions form directly from the online article to request permission.
    • Paper articles: You may need to contact the publisher directly. Contact the Library for help!
    • Books: You may need to contact the publisher directly. Contact the Library for help!
  • If the item is unpublished, find out, if at al possible, who owns (author or creator) the item. Ask them directly for permission.
  • Images are very tricky.  It is sometimes very hard to determine who actually owns the copyright, and who to contact for permission to reuse the image. Copyright information may not be provided, and you cannot find out who owns the image.
  • If copyright information on an image has been established, then definitely ask for permission from the copyright owner. Be forewarned that many owners will charge for reuse of their material.
  • Use your creativity and create your own images!
    • You can use your camera to take your own pictures.
    • You can derive your own image from someone else's, as long as you put in the effort to make it something new and unique enough to call it your own.

Licensing Agreements for a Caltech Thesis

CaltechTHESIS Usage License

  • CaltechTHESIS has a default usage license publicly viewable in a thesis record.  It states that "No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided."
  • Any file attached to a thesis record also provides licensing terms specific to each file. In addition to the default license, the thesis author can choose from the various Creative Commons licenses, including for software.

I Want to Write a Book Based on my Thesis

What if I want to write a book related to my thesis?

  • We realize that some students prepare books on topics related to their theses. In general, it appears to be the case that electronic release of early versions of a book leads to greater sales of such books. Indeed, having an electronic work made available on the Internet, and telling a publisher that there have been a large number of electronic accesses to that work, may help you land a book contract.
  • Usually, books that relate to theses turn out to be significantly changed as part of the editorial process. This makes it likely that those interested in your work will buy your book when it comes out, even if they have reviewed your thesis.
  • However, since book publishers vary widely in their policies, it may be wise to share Caltech's Doctoral Thesis Dissemination Policy with publishers to which you are likely to submit your work.

"Someone Wants to Publish my Thesis"

You have just received a letter or an email from a publisher offering to publish your thesis for you.  What now?

We would caution you to look carefully at such solicitations. The companies that have contacted you, unsolicited, may be a vanity press or belong to a group of questionable and highly suspect publishers. 

Vanity Presses

Vanity press publishers do not ask you to pay them up front.  They are in essence a a print-on-demand publisher. The most well-known "publishers", all based in Europe, are:

  • Lambert Academic Publishing
  • Scholars' Press
  • VDM Publishing

It is good to know that Lambert Academic Publishing, for example, uses the same phrases in their email solicitations as "Scholars' Press", which shares the same address as VDM Publishing.

What You Need to Know:

  • Most thesis and dissertation authors seek to publish at least part of their thesis or dissertation -- usually substantially re-worked from the strict thesis/dissertation format -- in a peer reviewed journal (article length) or by a university press, learned society, or well established commercial publisher (book length).  These vanity publishers might not impress a tenure review board, especially if you are planning a career in academia.  I suggest you do a simple search engine search (google, bing, yahoo) and draw your own conclusions.
  • This article is highly recommended reading, and explains matters pretty well: Another source of information is this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
  • If you're still not certain, your thesis advisor is an excellent resource for more specific advice. Caltech's Office of the General Counsel is another great resource, as they deal regularly with Intellectual Property matters.