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

Creative Media Partners LLC says its rights are not affected by university’s new terms for subsequent deals

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 March, 2017, 10:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 March, 2017, 11:53am

In a new twist to the controversy over the suspected illegal online sale of University of Hong Kong theses, a publisher involved has told the Sunday Morning Post that the works in question were obtained under a licence which allows commercial use.

The publisher’s defence came as HKU announced to its staff on Friday evening that it would issue take-down letters to websites selling the theses and that it had mobilised a team of senior staff to take further action.

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

Creative Media Partners LLC said the theses were “legally published” by the Open Dissertation Press, which is an imprint of US-based Creative Media Partners.

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.

It sparked citywide concerns as to whether the dissertations were being sold illegally without the consent of the authors and the university.

We have complied with the terms and are therefore entitled to publish the works
Jason Youmans, CEO of Creative Media Partners

But in a reply to the Post, Creative Media Partners CEO Jason Youmans said the university published the dissertations under a “Creative Commons: Attribution 3.0 Hong Kong Licence”.

“[It] grants an irrevocable licence for commercial use assuming compliance with the terms. We have complied with the terms and are therefore entitled to publish the works,” Youmans wrote.

The licence quoted by Youmans allows anyone to share and adapt the materials in any format for any purpose, including commercial use. But users must give “appropriate credit”, such as naming the work’s creator.

“We are a reputable publisher with a long history of working with leading organisations to more widely disseminate knowledge,” he wrote.

Nothing wrong with sharing knowledge, no matter how obscure

Youmans said the content on sale was obtained between November last year and January pursuant to the licence. But he said HKU had afterwards changed the licence to a version that forbids commercial use.

“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 wrote.

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

Youmans said there were some theses with licences that did not permit commercial use and they were “very careful to exclude those from publication”.

HKU could not provide further information as of Sunday morning.

Dissertations that used to be available at the click of a download button now require the filling in of an electronic form. The form asks for information including the names and email addresses of applicants.

Craig Choy Ki, convenor of the Progressive Lawyers Group, said if the publisher did obtain the content in question with a licence that permitted commercial use, the sale could continue even if HKU later changed it to a non-commercial one.

In a follow-up response to the Post, Youmans stated that the work was under Creative Commons licensing terms and could be freely obtained. Therefore those purchasing physical copies had made an “informed decision”.

He also said he had been in contact with a HKU professor, but both of them could not reach an agreement over the matter.