Copyrighted Material and the Doctrine of Fair Use

Authors must conform with the copyright rule of “fair use” when quoting materials or using graphics copyrighted by others. Generally, this means that in cases where permission is not obtained, “use” of the material is “fair” to the copyright holder. Such items as quotations and photo reproductions should not be so numerous or lengthy as to diminish the value of the work being cited. On the other hand, “fair use” is also a right that the author is entitled to exercise.

Because the rule of “fair use” is not precisely defined, it is advisable to request the copyright owner's written permission for any quotation or quotations of 150 words or more. If more than three items from other media (e.g., art reproductions, photographs, maps, or tables) are drawn from a single copyright holder, written permission must be obtained. Whatever the medium, permission letters must accompany the final dissertation deposit. In the permission letter, the holder of the copyright should give the author of the dissertation permission to use the copyrighted material and give ProQuest Information and Learning permission to film and sell the material on which it holds a copyright.

If diligent efforts to obtain copyright permission letters prove unsuccessful, the author may seek to effect a "split deposit" of the dissertation. In a split deposit, a student deposits all copyrighted materials and/or data included in the thesis in a separate file. 

Two files are submitted through the deposit gateway, namely:

  1. the full text of the dissertation, minus all copyrighted materials and/or data
  2. a separate appendix with all copyrighted materials and/or data

The appendix should be uploaded into the gateway as a supplemental PDF. The Dissertation Office will instruct ProQuest to suppress indefinitely the appendix so that it is not accessible to the public. All split-deposits requests should be sent to dissertations [at]

In addition, Columbia University's Copyright Advisory Office serves as a valuable resource regarding all questions related to copyright. 

In some disciplines, most commonly in the sciences, previously published material authored by the dissertation writer may be included in the dissertation. This is usually in the form of a journal article with the journal holding the copyright. Many journals routinely allow inclusion of these articles in dissertations and do not insist on a permission request. If the author is using pre-published articles (or other material) this issue should be clarified with the journal or copyright holder prior to deposit.

Departments are encouraged to formulate and enact policies that address this matter.