Whether an author is creating an electronic or paper thesis or dissertation, it does not change their rights and obligations under the law. While university policies vary, it is the custom that the person who creates a work is the owner of the copyright. Therefore, the author of an electronic thesis or dissertation is the copyright holder and owns the intellectual property, their ETD. Within the United States, authors have rights protected by law particularly US Code, Title 17, especially section 106. Authors get to decide how their works will be reproduced, modified, distributed, performed in public and displayed in public. An author may use another’s work with certain restrictions known as “fair use” (US Code, Title 17, sect. 107). The four factors of fair use that must be considered equally are: (1) purpose and character of use; (2) nature of the copyrighted work; amount and substantiality; and (4) effect. In the United States, libraries are also considered in the same copyright law under section 108. [For further explanations, see http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/ch1.html]
The owner of an ETD, as explained above usually the student, must take direct action if an ETD service is to be provided. The wording that is agreed to in writing, by student authors as well as the faculty working with them, must make clear how ETDs are handled. The wording used at Virginia Tech is one model. In the approval form used for this purpose, the following is agreed:
The student certifies that the work submitted is the one approved by the faculty they work with. The university is given authority, directly or through third party agents, to archive the work and to make it accessible, in accord with any access restrictions also specified on the form. This right is in perpetuity, and in all forms and technologies that may apply.
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