What are the implications of having the digital version of a thesis carry a licence that differs from that of its printed copy deposited in a library?

I am distributing my thesis online under a CC license, but when the printed version was first deposited at the university library I had included a "All rights reserved" notice. I am now unable to change the printed version at the library, so the digital copy that is online and the printed copy at the library carry two different copyright notices.

Do you envisage any problem other than the readers of the printed copy not knowing that they could also copy and distribute portions of the thesis with attribution?


The work is yours, and you can make it available in any way you see fit, possibly with different licences. So yo can perfectly well change your mind, and change the conditions of the licence under which you make your work available. You can even have different licences available at the same time, giving different rights to the user, possibly for different prices.

Of course, if you decide to use a stricter licence than the one you used so far, people who acquired your work under the more permissive licence will keep benefitting from it, whatever it permitted.

If you decide on a more permissive licence, people who got your work under the former stricter licence do not benefit from the new permissivity, unless the get a copy of the work under the new licence.

But if the new licence is CC-by-sa, it is probably easy to acquire that new copy (usually ... I know of counter-examples).

So the short answer is: you are doing fine, and no problem is to be expected, other than readers not knowing there is a more permissive licence.

However you have to make sure that you did not sign any contractual document that forbids you to distribute under another licence ... for example with whoever printed your thesis.

Typically, when you work with a publisher, you will transfer to him (part of) your copyright, and you can no longer distribute the work under a new licence, without his permission.

Note: Of course, your very wide freedom regarding the way your work is made available does have some legal limitation, not necessarily expressed by copyright law. For example, a discriminatory licence that prohibits sales to a specific class of people might get you in trouble.


The rights are personal to you. The consequences are more practical than legal. For example, a reader of the library copy can copy a portion of your text if such use constitutes "fair use." Whether a use is permitted under the copyright law is often a close question. In general, short quotations are permitted. Copying an entire chapter is not. Failure to attribute a quote is more of an academic or journalistic crime; proffering a quote as your own is not a violation of copyright, it's plagiarism. You, as rightsholder, own the intellectual property in the text. You can sell it, or give it away (as in a CC license). For example, you could sell the copyright to your thesis and the buyer could then decide to give the thesis away. You could sell some rights (say, audiobooks) and retain others (digital editions). If you have licensed your content under Creative Commons, the existence of a printed book that predated the grant does not affect the grant or make the grant unenforceable. This answer is grounded in US law. Other countries may or may not recognize the principle of fair use.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.