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td15426

Use of Master's thesis evaluations when thesis is published as book

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25 years ago I wrote a thesis for a Master's degree, and now I am publishing it as a book. At the time I submitted it, two professors wrote official evaluations of the degree. The evaluations were very positive and I would like to publish short quotations from them on the back cover of the book and in promotional literature for the book. It's my understanding that even for copyrighted material you can quote short extracts such as these without breaking any copyright laws, and in any case these were not copyrighted -- is that correct, or would there be a legal problem with doing this? One of the professors has since died.

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25 years ago I wrote a thesis for a Master's degree, and now I am publishing it as a book. At the time I submitted it, two professors wrote official evaluations of the degree. The evaluations were very positive and I would like to publish short quotations from them on the back cover of the book and in promotional literature for the book. It's my understanding that even for copyrighted material you can quote short extracts such as these without breaking any copyright laws, and in any case these were not copyrighted -- is that correct, or would there be a legal problem with doing this? One of the professors has since died.

You may use extracts from material that is protected by copyright if it is fair use. As I understand it, you want to use the quotations as effective endorsements of your work, which I think may be a problem as that may not be a fair use of the material. You should also ensure that the college or university for which you did the thesis is not the owner of the copyright of your thesis. It may have obtained the copyright as part of the terms of the masters program you were in.

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It's my understanding that even for copyrighted material you can quote short extracts such as these without breaking any copyright laws, and in any case these were not copyrighted -- is that correct, or would there be a legal problem with doing this?

It is correct that you can use short portions of copyright-protected material without infringing the copyright. It's called the doctrine of fair use. How it might apply to your intended use is something that can't be evaluated in the abstract, but the fact that you apparently intend to use the quotes for endorsement purposes would not negate the possibility of fair use.

It is not correct that your professors' evaluations "were not copyrighted." The word "copyright" is not properly used as a verb. If a work qualifies for copyright protection, that protection exists automatically, and the author need not do anything to secure such protection. Again, it is impossible, in the abstract, to say whether your professors' evaluations qualify for copyright protection, but they likely did.

The bigger issue for you is that, if it was published at or around the time you wrote it, you likely do not own the copyright in your thesis. It's possible -- depending on the rules of the institution you attended -- that you don't own the copyright even if it wasn't published. You should look into that before proceeding with your project.

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