Copyrighted Material and the Doctrine of Fair Use

Authors should take full advantage of the copyright doctrine of “fair use” when quoting or otherwise using materials that are copyright protected by others. Fair use is a copyright concept that is part of US federal law that allows limited uses of copyright protected materials without permission in certain circumstances so long as four factors are considered in examining the intended use.  Generally speaking, existing materials that are copyright protected by others may be used in a dissertation to the extent that they are necessary to make a point, engage in comparative analysis, criticize or engage in scholarly commentary. Generally speaking the use of existing copyright protected materials should be avoided if the intended use diminishes the value of the work being cited.

Please refer to the Copyright Law and Dissertation Preparation Guide for information on how to apply fair use.  If after examining the four factors, you are of the opinion that your intended uses exceed fair use, then you should seek permission for your intended uses from the copyright owner.  If you have additional questions, concerning copyright please contact Copyright Advisory Services at copyright [at] columbia.edu. If you have more general questions, please contact the Dissertation Office at gsas-dissertations [at] columbia.edu.

In some disciplines, most commonly the sciences, the dissertation writer may wish to include their own previously published material in their dissertation. This is usually in the form of a journal article with the journal holding the copyright. Some journals allow inclusion of these articles in dissertations and do not insist on a permission. 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.  For more information, you may refer to the following database of open access policies held by publishers.  

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