HKU Theses on Amazon and other online retailers
The University believes in promoting knowledge exchange and knowledge sharing and encouraging the flow of knowledge between the University and the community for mutual benefit. This is enshrined in the University’s Intellectual Property Rights Policy. As a key knowledge exchange strategy, the University has an open access policy under which graduates’ theses are placed in its institutional repository, the HKU Scholars Hub, for open access.
Authors of theses retain all proprietary rights (such as patent rights) and the right to use in future works. Access to and downloading of the Scholars Hub theses are intended for non-commercial purposes only.
Since February this year, a number of graduates’ theses were found to have been put up for sale on Amazon and other online bookstores and retailers. A publisher has made public announcements contesting, among others, the right of commercial use. The University takes the matter seriously and is taking a series of measures to put things right. Intellectual property rights must be respected and protected.
The purpose of this webpage is to provide a central place of communication for all those who are affected or are concerned about the situation. It includes a Frequently Asked Questions section addressing common issues, and key developments and new updates of the incident.
1. Why are HKU theses in open access?
HKU Theses in open access is one of the initiatives in alignment with the University’s vision in knowledge exchange, contributing to the advancement of society and the development of leaders in Hong Kong, the wider region and the rest of the world. In accordance with the University’s Regulations governing the format, binding and presentation of theses for higher degrees by research, one soft copy of the thesis is to be stored in the University’s institutional repository, and will be open to general access and consultation.
2. What actions have been taken by the Libraries so far?
We have restricted direct full text download and are making every effort to have Amazon and other distributors take down HKU dissertations and theses from their platform. We have also met with and exchanged ideas with the formed alliance led by two alumni. The incident has been reported to the Hong Kong Police. We are now seeking further advice from an international law firm based in Hong Kong who is in communication and negotiations with the CEO of the publishing company.
3. Can I restrict access to my theses now?
To secure access to HKU theses, direct full text downloading has been disabled on 3 March 2017. Requests now have to go through an auto-response form that generates a link enabling immediate access to a requested thesis. Included in this process is a mechanism that prevents automated access by computer programs. We hope this arrangement enables the University’s pursuit of knowledge exchange to continue while exercising due diligence in the secure access to HKU theses.
If a thesis author still wants to take down his/her thesis from the Scholars Hub temporarily until the incident is settled, he/she may submit a request to the University Libraries via the enquiries link below. The Libraries will further communicate with alumni when the incident is fully settled and theses should then be put onto the Hub again.
4. Who is the copyright owner of my thesis?
According to HKU’s Intellectual Property Rights Policy, Section 5.1.3 on “Student thesis”
(a) The Student shall retain copyright in his or her written thesis.
(b) The Student grants the University, in particular the University Libraries and the University Archives, a royalty free, perpetual, non-exclusive worldwide licence to circulate the thesis or use the thesis for other non-commercial purposes. The licence granted under this clause shall persist should the Student no longer be enrolled as a Student of the University.
5. I am going to publish my thesis / article based on my thesis with a publisher but my thesis is being sold on many online platforms. What can I do?
As of 21 March 2017, Creative Media Partners, LLC has in an open letter, “instructed that all dissertations immediately be removed from sale”. It may take some time for the bookstores to have the theses taken down. As copyright holder of the theses, you may still follow the applicable procedures and file complaints/ take-down notices according to the designated websites (e.g. typically meeting the requirements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (U.S. Copyright Office)).
6. We were told that the publisher will no longer sell HKU theses as of 21 March 2017 but our theses still appear in Amazon and other online bookstores and retailers. Why?
The sale of theses from the websites has been halted. We are in discussions to have the records removed. In an email from the publisher dated April 10, 2017, it was stated "We are monitoring and following up to have listings removed as efficiently, and quickly as possible. As we have stated, no dissertations are able to be produced pursuant to any order that may be attempted by any retailer". Our regular monitoring of the situation shows that most sites now list the theses as "Out of stock" or "unavailable". Additionally, the number of websites that originally listed the theses is declining. Please see the following reports for details:
- University Librarian's Report (4 October 2018)
- Status Report (29 March 2023)
Messages from University Librarian