Publisher blames Hong Kong University for copyright licensing ‘debacle’ amid recall

Creative Media Partners chief executive says the school never had the right to allow commercial distribution

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 2:41pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 10:05pm

An online publisher of University of Hong Kong theses has instructed all vendors to remove the material from their stores after what he describes as a licensing “debacle” caused by the school.

Jason Youmans, chief executive of Creative Media Partners LLC, on Tuesday said his company had just learned of the university’s intellectual property rights policy, which stipulates that all current and former students shall retain copyright of their thesis.

The policy also states that a royalty-free worldwide licence, which must be granted by the students, only allows circulation for non-commercial purposes.

Publisher insists it had licence to sell University of Hong Kong theses online

He said this meant that the university would not have had the right to grant any publisher a commercial licence, which his firm had received.

“We are immediately removing from sale all the HKU dissertations we published through Open Dissertation Press with all retailers and distributors where they were being sold,” he said.

“We are in the meantime investigating our legal remedies against HKU for representing to the world and us that they had the right to give a licence permitting commercial use of these dissertations.

“We hope they take responsibility for being the progenitor of this debacle.”

Youmans insisted his firm had obtained the works between November last year and January under a under a “Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0 Hong Kong Licence”, which allowed anyone to share and adapt the materials in any format for any purpose, including commercial use. Users had to give “appropriate credit”, such as naming the work’s creator.

University of Hong Kong to take action against unauthorised sale of student work

He added, however, that that HKU had since changed the licence to forbid commercial use.

According to Youmans, another online database, Open Access Theses and Dissertations, also collects HKU theses with the specification that they are being used under the 3.0 licence.

“Although it applies to future use by others, it does not affect our rights since we are bound under the terms by which we obtained the content,” he said.

“The lack of disclosure by HKU certainly introduces confusion for the authors, who have no way of knowing what the licence was at the time we downloaded it.”

He said he had instructed his company’s distributors to cancel all titles immediately, but could not say exactly when the titles would be removed.

Academic works by tens of thousands of the university’s graduates, also publicly available on its HKU Scholars Hub website, were found being sold by notable online bookstores, including Amazon, Book Depository, Fishpond, and Barnes and Noble last week.

HKU has not responded requests for comment since last week.