My Take

Nothing wrong with sharing knowledge, no matter how obscure

Someone is selling academic theses on the internet, seemingly without permission. But if it helps increase the pool of ideas and experience out there, why not?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 March, 2017, 1:57am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 March, 2017, 2:08am

Graduation theses tend to pile up in dusty corners of university libraries. No one ever reads them other than your adviser and those unfortunate souls who have to examine you. Well, maybe not even all of them. How do you know they read it?

Yet, some enterprising “publishers” – there may be one or more of them, it’s not clear – have downloaded tens of thousands of theses, without authorisation, from the scholarly web hub of the University of Hong Kong and put them up for sale on popular online bookstores such as Amazon, Book Depository, Fishpond and Barnes and Noble. It sounds like an excellent public service to me. So what if someone makes some money off it?

But the university says it’s copyright infringement. Some titles are quite interesting. There is an education thesis by former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, examining how mathematical concepts can be taught by definitions and examples.

Next time I see him, I will have to ask him about the recent decline in our pupils’ maths scores in Pisa tests, their declining interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and what can be done about it.

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

HKU graduates who are affected are reportedly angry. The university has approached the online bookstores to ask them to stop the sales. But at least one online bookstore has told HKU only the authors themselves can lodge a complaint and have their works withdrawn from sale. I can’t imagine too many of them would bother. If I were one of them, I would welcome the opportunity of potentially being read by more than five people in the world.

Eons ago, I wrote a philosophy thesis – not at HKU unfortunately – on some obscure aspect of the German philosopher G W F Hegel, which even my adviser said was really boring. I was sure he let me pass just to get rid of me.

Now, if only someone would steal my old thesis and sell it on Amazon so two more people in the world would read it, I would be eternally grateful and let him take all the profit.

Dr Ho Pak-leung, a microbiologist whose 2008 PhD thesis at HKU was also “stolen” and sold, said he was ok with it too.

“I don’t feel my rights have been infringed,” he said. “If knowledge can be promoted to others, I don’t mind.” My sentiments exactly.