I have been robbed

David Flower

One exciting feature of the Intefrnet is quick and easy access to information and ideas, but as one who is a victim of theft, thanks to the Internet, I have to wonder how much leeway it should have.

Recently, I was contacted by a friend who told me that my doctoral thesis, along with hundreds of other doctoral and master's theses, was for sale on the Internet for $29.95 US, courtesy of www.contentville.com leaving the ATA website. I visited the site and there, under dissertations, was the abstract of my thesis. The entire thesis is available in PDF format for $24.95 US (club member's price: $23.70 US); an unbound copy will set you back $29.95 US (club member's price: $28.45 US). To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I had not been asked by the company if it could sell my work, and I had to wonder, who gets the money?

I began to speculate about infringement of intellectual property rights, the very issue so much in the news today with Napster and the allegations that it is stealing music. How did this company get my thesis? When a thesis is submitted to the university in its final form, two bound copies are published. One copy remains with the university and the other is sent to the National Library in Ottawa. When a thesis is submitted to the National Library, the author signs a release that allows the library to "reproduce single copies of this thesis and lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only." According to National Library sources, the library contracts with UMI Dissertations Publishing, a division of Bell and Howell Information and Learning, to microfilm and catalogue Canadian theses. Apparently UMI recently made their abstract database available to Contentville "to broaden opportunities for users to locate titles of interest." The question remains: Who gave Contentville permission to sell my thesis without my knowledge? I am not interested in the money—as far as I am concerned the thesis is available to anyone who wants to read it free of charge—I object to some online company making a profit at my expense without even having the courtesy to inform me. Incidentally, it might be of interest to know that Contentville is owned by NBC, CBS and Microsoft, the last being an aggressive defender of its ownership rights. As usual, when large corporations get involved, the individual feels powerless to do anything. Everyone I contacted at the National Library, Bell and Howell or Contentville provided the predictably slippery answers about their role in the process.

Am I being robbed? Is this a form of intellectual theft? I believe it is.

If you have completed a thesis in Canada or the United States in the last 10 years or so you might want to visit www.contentville.com leaving the ATA website to see how much your intellectual outpourings are worth. You never know—you might one day get a royalty cheque in the mail if someone purchases a copy of your work!