Dissertation for Sale

I came across this article from The Chronicle, and needless to say am not happy with the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) that is spreading because of it. My thoughts below, obviously my strongly worded opinions and not representative of my employer –

The argument for exposing work is that it actually offers greater protection against this type of thing:

  • if you can find it online for free through the school’s official website, why would one be forced to pay for it?; 
  • plagiarism is more easily detected if a definitive version is online with date/time stamps that is indexed regularly by web crawlers; 
  • discoverability of items in an institutional repository pushes them higher in search results, meaning Amazon, Barnes and Noble and ProQuest versions of the same paper would be filtered down;

The issue is that Graduate Schools are not effectively relating the options and information to students. They need to be developing policies to help students understand accessibility and copyright/fair use and how to wield these for their purposes. 

Also, this article has one key point that shouldn’t be overlooked – the dissertation was being sold because ProQuest snuck that language in and the student didn’t understand what it meant. Unfortunately, Graduate Schools have aligned themselves too closely with ProQuest, a company that needs to make revenue, and these types of confusing policies are not explained to the students at all. Another mark against ProQuest – they charge $90 to make a document “open access” when that is exactly the service the library, in collaboration with The Grad School, offers absolutely free. 

To top it off, there has been substantial research very recently on the myth of students being unable to publish their dissertation work if the document is already available online. 96% of publishers will consider works based on ETDs, even if they are publicly accessible, since through the editorial process they undergo such transformation, are adapted for a new audience, are built upon and changed, and most importantly are reviewed for quality.

And my comment on the article:

To the point of this piece — READ WHAT YOU SIGN, including copyright transfer agreements for journal articles. The best case scenario is that you always retain copyright and have a firm understanding of the permissions you are granting to the publisher. Had this advice been given to the author, this article would not have been written, or would have been “How I sued ProQuest for selling my intellectual property without permission.”

Am I off-base? Too harsh? Or is the system really this inefficient? Is this a potential role for scholarly communications and the library to intervene and introduce solid understanding of the issues at hand?

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