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The latest news and answers to your questions about scholarly publishing and open access.

Should I be worried about my thesis or dissertation being openly available in Summit?

Published October 23, 2019 by Jennifer Zerkee

It can be daunting to think about your thesis or dissertation being openly available in Summit for anyone to find and read. You may have heard concerns about plagiarism, predatory publishers or limitations on your ability to publish a manuscript based on your openly available thesis. Be reassured that, for the most part, these concerns are unwarranted. Most universities in Canada make their students' theses and dissertations open. Additionally, there are many benefits to making your work openly available, including increased readership and citation as well as access by practitioners, industry, government and others outside of academia.

In this post, we'd like to do some myth-busting about these concerns.

Plagiarism: What if someone uses and takes credit for my work?

The fact that your publicly available thesis or dissertation might be copied also makes it easier for other scholars to find, use and cite. But it also means that it is easy to find in order to compare texts and check for plagiarism. Peter Suber, director of the Harvard Open Access Project, points out that:

In any case, if making literature digital and online makes plagiarism easier to commit, then OA [open access] makes plagiarism easier to detect... the smart [plagiarists] will not steal from OA sources indexed in every search engine. In this sense, OA deters plagiarism.
Suber 2012

A work being openly available as soon as possible - and clearly dated and time-stamped - can deter plagiarism by providing proof of the earlier appearance of one work compared to another similar work (Cirasella and Thistlethwaite 2017, 212).

Predatory publishers: What if someone publishes my thesis/dissertation in a questionable journal?

This fear seems to be unfounded, a conflation of two other phenomena: (1) the existence of shady book publishers that sell compilations of OA articles originally published under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license, which allows commercial reuse... and (2) ProQuest's now-discontinued practice of selling dissertations through "third-party retailers," such as Amazon.
Cirasella and Thistlethwaite 2017, 212)

We have not encountered any data or anecdotal evidence to justify a concern about predatory publishers taking publicly available theses or dissertations and publishing them without the author's consent. SFU grad students own copyright in their theses and dissertations, and like most post-secondaries SFU does not apply an open license (e.g., Creative Commons) to theses/dissertations; it would be an illegal act of copyright infringement to publish one without the author's permission.

(Note: questionable publishers do sometimes contact scholars and ask them to contribute content. See the Library's Publishing choices page for help assessing the quality of a journal, publisher or conference.)

Ability to publish: Will a publisher reject my manuscript because my thesis/dissertation is already available?

In 2013 the American Historical Association recommended that institutions permit embargoing of history dissertations for up to six years, to protect a scholar's ability to publish the work. Harvard University Press rejected this recommendation outright, stating that "when we at HUP take on a young scholar's first book... we expect that the final product will be so broadened, deepened, reconsidered, and restructured that the availability of the dissertation is irrelevant" (emphasis added).

A small UK survey of academic publishers in 2015/16 found that "not a single [respondent] would outright refuse to consider publishing material derived from" an openly available thesis. A similar 2011 US survey of academic publishers in the humanities and social sciences found that fewer than three percent of journal publisher respondents and fewer than eight percent of university presses would not consider a manuscript if it was based on an openly available thesis or dissertation, and that nearly half of all respondents would "always welcome" such a manuscript. And a related 2012 study of academic publishers in the sciences found that fewer than 14% would "never" consider a manuscript based on an openly accessible thesis or dissertation.

We addressed a related question in an earlier post, Can I publish my thesis?

In conclusion

We hope we have busted these myths and reassured you that there are many benefits to making your work open! If you still have concerns about your thesis or dissertation being made openly available, contact the Digital Scholarship Librarians (digital-scholarship@sfu.ca) with your questions.

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