Is Someone Selling Your Dissertation Without Your Permission?


A lecturer in philosophy at a UK university discovered that a company has been selling his recent dissertation as a book online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, and Blackwell’s, complete with a cover.

The official cover page of Richard Elliott’s dissertation (left), and the cover created for it by a company for the unauthorized version it is selling (left).

Richard Elliott, a lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London, says “I have given no authorization for use of my work.”

He has taken some steps to have the sales stopped. He writes:

At this stage I have made contact with a company called Ingram, whom a legal rep at Waterstones notified me is the distributor for the online listings they (Waterstones) post. I have so far requested Ingram immediately remove this material for the listing, and have also requested information from them about the process by which this infringement has come to pass. They have so far replied with: “We are taking the appropriate action and are in the process of removing the infringing title(s) from our distribution feeds. Please note that 1) if the title was in distribution, it may take time for retailers to remove the available status from their website and 2) many retailers may still keep the title listed, but this does not mean it is available to purchase.”

He also says, “I looked up the so-called ‘publisher’ and found hundreds of what might be similar cases of stolen copyrighted PhD materials.”

Perhaps you should check to see if someone is selling unauthorized versions of your dissertation.

Dr. Elliott is open to suggestions about “how to remove or at least mitigate the online presence” of the unauthorized book, “as well as any possibilities for litigation.”

I contacted a law professor at Cambridge University, Lionel Bently, about this kind of case. He said:

The doctoral student clearly owns copyright and thus has the right to prevent reproduction, distribution of each and every copy and communication to the public (e.g. in ebooks). So there are no doubts that the distributors are infringing and a court would immediately put a stop to this.

Perhaps some legal action by those whose theses are being sold without their permission, or action on their behalf by the universities from which they’ve earned their degrees (and which routinely post the dissertations in online repositories, as Birkbeck had done with Elliott’s) is in order.

 

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Devin Curry
7 months ago

This has happened to me as well, and I’ve chatted with a couple copyright lawyers. In short, both of them told me that (a) online booksellers usually take things down if you go through their “infringement portal” (here’s Amazon’s: https://www.amazon.com/report/infringement) and (b) it’s probably a waste of time to try to take legal action against the scammer (“publisher”).

Devin Curry
Reply to  Devin Curry
7 months ago

(FWIW, I’m in the US. Maybe UK law is relevantly different.)

Rollo Burgess
Rollo Burgess
Reply to  Devin Curry
7 months ago

I doubt the pointlessness of legal action is about the law: it is more likely to be about the nature of the ‘publisher’. Basically you are never going to get any money or recoup your costs by suing an offshore bot farm, whatever the law says.

It might be a good idea if a reputable organisation did this is in a legitimate way – ie made PhD theses available as reasonably priced ebooks, with author’s consent and paying royalties as appropriate.

Devin Curry
Reply to  Rollo Burgess
7 months ago

I agree that (b) isn’t primarily about the law, but (a) is. (Whether the laws are relevantly different, I have no idea.)

I’m more than happy for my dissertation to be free to download!

Will Behun
Will Behun
Reply to  Devin Curry
7 months ago

I’m assuming (and I could very well be very wrong) that Ingram likely isn’t the guilty party, but rather their online service was used by someone for nefarious purposes.

Devin Curry
Reply to  Will Behun
7 months ago

Yes, I agree. I’m referring to that nefarious someone as the “publisher” (as I suspect Richard Elliott was in the OP).

Nils Hoppe
Nils Hoppe
7 months ago

It may make a dent in the scammers‘ business model if the copyright holders forced them to account for the profits.

Michel
Reply to  Nils Hoppe
7 months ago

That’s assuming they’re successfully selling any dissertations.

V. Alan White
7 months ago

If I found that someone sold my old dissertation I’d sue for defamation.

Devin Curry
Reply to  V. Alan White
7 months ago

Sue whom? The “publisher” is impossible to track down, and the booksellers use their infringement reporting processes as a legal shield.

V. Alan White
Reply to  Devin Curry
7 months ago

Um–again posting loses its subtlety.

Devin Curry
Reply to  V. Alan White
7 months ago

Ah I get the joke now, sorry.

Jason Aleksander
Reply to  V. Alan White
7 months ago

That’s truly funny. I feel pity and sorrow for anyone foolish enough to pay money for mine. I don’t think it’s right to sell it even under a caveat emptor warning. Unfortunately, I have to assume that I’m just as likely to write stupid things now as I was then. The problem is I don’t notice until it’s too late to do anything about it! I guess this admission means I’m not likely to win a defamation suit, though.

Maybe I should just concentrate on writing retractions from here on out?

Jason Aleksander
7 months ago

A few years ago the SEP reached out to me along with several other authors of SEP entries to say that they had discovered a large number of SEP entries for sale on Amazon. But they wanted the authors to help declare copyright violations in order to take action. That made sense to me, and I’m not sure whether or not the authors’ statements had anything to do with it, but SEP got those pulled down pretty quickly.

Generating revenue by plagiarizing the SEP is one thing — at least that stuff is mostly pretty good, well-polished stuff. Good stuff that many of us rely on when we are working outside our own areas of expertise. And it’s accessible through the SEP website anyway, so the sellers of these plagiarized essays are at least not reproducing works that the authors would have any real desire to suppress on their own behalf.

But publishing people’s dissertations seems to me so much worse for lots of reasons. Among these… well, let me put it this way: I don’t have any illusions that my dissertation is likely to be of any real interest to anyone, but even if someone thought it might be worth reading, I would want them to have some sense going in that they are looking at a dissertation — i.e., juvenilia — so that they are aware to take it all with a heavy grain of salt. As far as I’m concerned my copyright on my dissertation is a public service. The fact that someone really has to want to negotiate some obstacles to access my dissertation is a protection that I appreciate, and that reason more than any other means that I would hate to see mine appear on Amazon. (I can, of course, imagine a large number of *other* reasons others might want to protect their IP and so on…)

Matthias Brinkmann
7 months ago

I have also, unfortunately, been a victim of this — thanks for drawing attention to the issue, Richard. I have also contacted Ingram, who have been pretty quick to respond. In particular, they have informed me that they “have shut down the account that included the infringing title”.

Jason Brennan
7 months ago

You all have permission to sell my dissertation. Good luck with that.