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We investigated whether American dissertations that were deposited in university libraries or disseminated on microfilm prior to 1978 were "published" for copyright purposes. This question has direct bearing on the copyright status of these works today. In the absence of a directly relevant legal decision to clarify the matter, the authors examined how the former community of practice interpreted the law in the context of dissertation dissemination. A content analysis of written communications by members of this community indicates that both forms of dissertation dissemination were considered to be legal publication under the 1909 Copyright Act.