Over 20,000 theses from University of Hong Kong students are being sold by an unknown publisher on book retailer websites without authorisation.

In late January, a publisher named Open Dissertation Press uploaded the theses onto websites such as Amazon, Book Depository, Abebooks and Barnes and Noble. The 1983 Master of Education thesis of former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang could be found on sale for US$49 (HK$381).

University of Hong Kong
Jasper Tsang’s thesis. Photo: Amazon screenshot.

Little information is publicly available on the publisher. It appears to have uploaded some 22,000 HKU student theses onto the website of Norwegian bookseller Tanum, and some 30,000 theses onto that of Swedish bookseller Adlibris earlier this year.

Creative Commons 3.0

Graduates’ theses can be downloaded for free on HKU’s website as part of the university’s open access policy. Open Dissertation Press claims on Amazon that it sells the theses under a Creative Commons licence which allow publishers to share and adapt content for any purpose, including commercial purposes.

However, an HKU spokesperson told HKFP that the theses are regulated by the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial licence, which does not allow publishers to share the content for commercial gain.

barnes noble

“HKU is aware that a number of graduates’ theses are being sold on some online bookshops and takes it seriously,” said the spokesperson.

“HKU has been in contact with relevant parties and is working together with authors to lodge their complaints to ensure rectification measures are taken, in particular unauthorised publication and sale should be stopped.”

hku gate
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“HKU takes intellectual property issues seriously and will consider further actions as necessary.”

‘Only the owner can take action’

On Wednesday, several hundred graduates began to air their grievances in a Facebook group named the Alliance against Copyright Infringement of our Theses. Some took aim at HKU for making their theses freely-accessible to the public.

Professor John Bacon-Shone of HKU’s Knowledge Exchange Office told the graduates that although HKU has requested that Amazon remove the infringing content on multiple occasions, but “Amazon insists that only the owner can take action, which means… the author.”

He added that HKU is trying to organise a system whereby it can take action as an agent on behalf of students. He said that all affected graduates should also lodge individual complaints with Amazon and other book-selling websites.

However, Facebook group creator Benson Wong pointed out that filing an individual complaint with Amazon is a lengthy and complicated process, which he called “disappointing.”

Another commenter wrote: “It is unrealistic to expect us all to make complaints individually and they should take action asap,”

Amazon sends complainants an automatic reply, which requests contact details, the asserted intellectual property right by registration number, and a statement of good faith, among other information.

Correction 13:05: A previous version of this article suggested over 40,000 theses had been uploaded. This figure, in fact, included hardback and paperback versions of the same papers.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.