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

Major online bookstores found to be carrying academic papers by graduates

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 11:07am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 11:07am

The University of Hong Kong will lodge complaints with various online bookstores found to be selling academic papers by students without the permission of the authors.

The university said it was aware that “a number of graduates’ theses were being sold by some online bookshops” and that it took the matter seriously.

A search by the Post found that academic works by thousands of graduates, which were also publicly available on the university’s HKU Scholars Hub website, were being sold by notable online bookstores, including Amazon, Book Depository, Fishpond and Barnes and Noble.

“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,” a university spokeswoman said.

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Some of the papers were on offer by a publisher whose corporate and contact details could not be found online or on the Company Registry. They had been packaged in a blue cover and were carried by several popular online bookstores.

Prices of the works, which were put up for sale in January, ranged from about HK$400 to HK$500.

The Post reached out to the publishers but has yet to receive any response.

On Wednesday evening, the university said it was taking action against the improper usage of the student theses.

The spokeswoman added that anyone downloading a thesis from the HKU Scholars Hub had to comply with Creative Commons licensing terms, and usage of the paper was to be non-commercial.

Benson Wong Wai-kwok, one of the authors, was shocked to discover on Tuesday night that his PhD thesis – published in 2007 – was being sold without his consent.

Wong, who is currently an assistant professor at Baptist University’s department of government and international studies, has formed a Facebook group called “Alliance Against Copyright Infringement of Our Theses” to gather the voices of other affected authors.

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Wong said he had already complained to Amazon and might take further action, such as meeting staff from the university’s library, if no progress was made in a week.

“It is important to take prompt action ... could the university allow people to read one-tenth of the work each time to prevent a full download?” Wong asked, suggesting a method to prevent would-be sellers from copying and reproducing the full text of a thesis.

But Dr Ho Pak-leung, a microbiologist whose PhD thesis in 2008 was also printed and sold, said: “I don’t feel my rights have been infringed. If knowledge can be promoted to others, I don’t mind.”

Craig Choy Ki , convenor of concern group Progressive Lawyers Group, said the act of selling works without authorisation from the authors was an infringement of copyright, even if the works could be downloaded freely.

He said the incident reflected insufficient monitoring of copyright by the online bookstores.