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Anger Over Ph.D. Dissertations on Amazon

Thousands of works produced at British university were available on Kindle services following mass scraping of online repository.

January 15, 2021
 

Scholars at a British university have condemned “unlawful” attempts to sell their Ph.D. theses without permission on Amazon’s Kindle service.

The outcry follows the discovery by academics who did their doctoral studies at Durham University that their Ph.D. dissertations had been scraped from the university’s online thesis repository, where they are freely available, and were being sold as individual titles for as much as 9.99 pounds ($13.68).

Around 2,000 Ph.D. theses -- many of which appeared under the authorship of “Durham Philosophy” -- had been made available as Kindle ebooks, according to Sarah Hughes, vice chancellor’s research fellow in human geography at Northumbria University.

That someone “should take our work and sell it for profit, in a clear breach of copyright, is both unlawful and untenable,” Hughes told Times Higher Education, adding that her thesis had been available for purchase since October.

The breach of copyright “raises additional problems” for scholars who were often only given permission to use “material that other people hold the copyrights for, e.g., images … on the condition that they are included in a nonpublished Ph.D. thesis and not sold for profit.”

“Public access to academic research is hugely important, and something that drives my own scholarship on migration politics,” continued Hughes, who said that “this is why these academic theses are freely available on online, via Durham’s online repository.”

“Amazon’s listings have been made without our consent in a clear breach of copyright and with no acknowledgment of authorship.”

Many of the offending publications have now been removed by Amazon. It is thought that they were published by a third party.

“Our store maintains content guidelines for books, which address content that is illegal or infringing. We remove products that do not adhere to our guidelines, and when a concern is raised we promptly investigate it,” an Amazon spokeswoman said.

In a statement, Durham University said it was “aware of this issue” and “where appropriate we have been filing takedown notices to Amazon to have them removed from the website.” It added, “We will continue to do so.”

Several academics whose work was available for sale without their consent managed to see a humorous side of the episode, noting that some theses were fractionally more expensive than others for no apparent reason.

“Is it bad that I’m secretly chuffed that mine is being sold for 5p more than yours?” tweeted a Northumbria colleague of Hughes.

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