There are two important areas of interest under this topic:
Copyright Law and Graduate Research
Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis You should review this document by Proquest for a detailed discussion of these matters:
Protecting Your Intellectual Property
While it is true that printing your name, a copyright mark of some type, and a date on any page of your dissertation does assert your rights to your intellectual property, you should go further and register your copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. For a $75 fee that you can pay during the submission process, ProQuest will do this for you. If you ever have to challenge legally someone's misuse of your intellectual property, a legally registered copyright on your dissertation greatly facilitates that process and secures the assistance of ProQuest to do so.
The rest of this page is quoted verbatim from the Register U. S. Copyright menu page you will see on the submission website. You should review it carefully.
If you find the section named Previous U.S. Copyright Registration puzzling, here is an explanation of why you would choose Yes rather than No. In all likelihood, you will have no reason to choose Yes. If you registered your copyright for a pre-existing work and reused that work in large part or totally to generate a new work, namely, your dissertation, you would need to report that copyright as you register your copyright for the dissertation. Some excellent examples include the reuse in a new work of a previously published scholarly article, book, patent, musical work, short story, and so on.
At ProQuest, we make copyright registration easy - by submitting your application to the United States Office of Copyright on your behalf and providing you with the certificate from the Library of Congress. Registering your copyright via ProQuest is the fastest and most efficient method currently available.
Registering with the U.S. Office of Copyright establishes your claim to the copyright for your dissertation/thesis and provides certain protections if your copyright is violated. Because of the availability of content on the open web via repositories and other avenues, registering for U.S. copyright can be a significant benefit for the protection of your work. By registering for U.S. copyright, you can protect your dissertation or thesis and become immediately eligible for statutory damages and attorney fees. Registering for copyright allows for the claimant to receive statutory damages set out in Title 17, Section 504 of the U.S. Code, which range from $750 - $150,000 USD plus attorney fees per copyright infraction. This contrasts with those who do not register for copyright - authors without copyright registration can claim only actual damages and no attorney fees.
If you wish, ProQuest/UMI Dissertation Publishing will act on your behalf as your agent with the United States Copyright Office and apply for copyright registration as part of the publishing process. Learn more