Do I need permission from Cornell to use a graduate student’s work in a research paper?

Date: July 2017


Greetings Deans,

We are about to submit a research paper that reports work that was started by a former graduate student and finished by a current grad student.  We would like to use a few paragraphs and one figure from the former student’s dissertation (he is, of course, a coauthor on this new manuscript).  He did choose to copyright his dissertation.  This material is about 6 pages out of his 199-page dissertation.

So, do I need to obtain any permission(s) from Cornell or the Graduate School for use of this material in a new manuscript that we are preparing for submission to a journal?

Thanks so much for clarifying this for us!

All the best,



Dear Author-in-Waiting,

Thank you for your Ask a Dean question. 

University Policy 4.15 on Copyright provides the guidance you are seeking. If the student copyrighted his dissertation so that copyright ownership and the rights thereof rest with him, he is the only one who needs to provide permission to use (and cite appropriately) the passages you refer to; no additional permission is required from the Graduate School or Cornell. 

The long-standing tradition within academia generally and Cornell specifically is that faculty members, students, and others own the copyright in their scholarly publications except for contractual obligations, particularly those prescribed by federal law, that require some other copyright ownership approach. As explained in University Policy 4.15, “Copyright ownership of all works of authorship … by individuals with academic or nonacademic university appointments and students, vests in the author, except under circumstances” of subordination to other agreements (e.g., sponsored research contractual requirements), work for hire by a nonacademic appointee, or substantial use of university resources that are not ordinarily used by, or available to, most or all members of the university faculty. Please consult with the Center for Technology Licensing if an Invention Disclosure Form has been filed on any part of the copyrighted work.

In the case of a dissertation copyright owned by the student, the student is generally able to decide how the content of the “dissertation may be made available, worked into a book, or divided into a few journal articles.” See “Copyright and Your Dissertation or Thesis: Ownership, Fair Use, and Your Rights and Responsibilities.”

Best wishes with your research paper and submission to a journal!


Barbara A. Knuth
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School