August 14, 2000 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Contentville is selling copies of over 1.5 million college dissertations and theses published since 1871. Contentville claims that authors will be paid royalties if their works are sold, but somehow I don't think they contacted most of those authors for permission to put said works up for sale in the first place.
posted by phichens (15 comments total)
I think the authors should be happy to be getting the exposure. I mean, if they want to make money from their doctoral work, they should go on tour!
posted by alan at 5:33 PM on August 14, 2000

Alan, that's not really the point, is it?

But anyhow - anyone who has completed a formal thesis or dissertation (pretty much) has signed a form that explicitly states that other agencies will list the work, whether it's UMI, the National Library here in Canada (probably the Library of Congress too?), or whoever. Contentville makes it easier to find them - but it seems entirely within the spirit and letter of the agreement I signed, and most if not all others did too.
posted by mikel at 7:51 PM on August 14, 2000

Just drawing the inevitable comparison first . . . :)
posted by alan at 8:02 PM on August 14, 2000

Actually, one of our bloggers, and I thought it was either the Genehacker, or Wes, the Planet Hacker, but can't find the reference on either site, says that he's pretty sure he did *not* sign anything that might give these fols permission; his was the first place I saw it, sometime last night.
posted by baylink at 8:07 PM on August 14, 2000

Hmmm. I remember I did. I'm sure it varies from school to school, depending on what agreements they have with the major agencies. It might depend on how formal the process was (was there a full defense with an advisor, internal/external examiners and a chair or was it less formal). Who knows, really - there are hundreds if not thousands of degree-granting institutions and I bet they each differ a bit.
posted by mikel at 8:26 PM on August 14, 2000

According to UMI, a given disseratation racks up an average of something like 1.5 purchases. Not that that's as important as the principle, but Contentville definitely isn't keeping any degree-holders from getting a new Lexus. Or even from super-sizing their next Happy Meal. :)
posted by aaron at 8:32 PM on August 14, 2000

It's like a reverse fakie paper Napster! Are any of you familiar with copyleft? I have not taken the time to really read through it, but this seems sort of like what things would be like if it were applied. Does this sound good to you? I'm not so keen on what I understand thus far.
posted by thirteen at 9:35 PM on August 14, 2000

There was one dissertation a few years ago which attracted quite a great deal of interest and a lot of requests for copies.

It was a Ph.D thesis in nuclear physics, and the guy designed a nuclear bomb. He worked entirely from declassified information, and apparently the design was completely practical and would have had a good chance of working (though it was not certain).

There were a number of requests for copies from overseas from places like Libya and Iraq. The university was in a bit of a quandry about what to do. I don't recall just how they resolved that.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:16 PM on August 14, 2000

The UMI agreement I just signed for my dissertation "grants UMI the following rights:

1. The non exclusive right to reproduce and distribute your dissertation in and from microfilm.

2. The non exclusive right to reproduce and distribute your dissertation in and from an electronic format.

3. The non exclusive right to reproduce and distribute your abstract in any format in whole or in part."
posted by plaino at 2:30 AM on August 15, 2000

Ted Rall recently wrote a column critical of Contentville, which he says is selling some material he wrote without his permission. (Unfortunately the URL for the column seems to be down at the moment, but I read it there yesterday.)
posted by wiremommy at 10:07 AM on August 15, 2000

Alan, since no one seems to have addressed your point ("this is essentially the same as Napster" I believe it was you're trying to express), I'll take a stab at it.

(And, since I can only really guess at your take - I detect a bit of sarcasm there, and the impression that I get is that you're saying "You do this with Napster, you can't argue against others doing this with thesis papers" - I'm not addressing you, per se. I'm addressing that argument)

The significant difference is that contentville is For-Profit, where Napster claims to be - and Gnutella and Freenet actually are - Not For-Profit.

Sharing information without approval and selling information without approval are two different things.

If I give a friend the latest Metallica single mp3 I haven't made a profit. I'm not better off for making that copy.

If I sell a friend a cd with the latest Metallica single mp3 on it, or sell a friend a copy of the latest Metallica single digitally, I'm $5, or $10, or $0.01 richer. I've made a profit off the work without authorization.

I'll refrain from stating my opinion yet again, and leave this as hopefully informative fodder for the conversation.

posted by cCranium at 10:44 AM on August 15, 2000


The way I understand Copyleft works is that the information "protected" by it can be freely copied and distributed.

Charging people for media (paper, a cd, whatever) is definetely acceptable under Copyleft, processing fees (to pay employess, etc.) is also cool. Charging people an extra fee just for profit is, I think, acceptable but highly frowned upon.

The most important thing about Copyleft though is that it has to be applied by an author (artist, musician, etc., etc.) to the work before it can be applied.

In this specific instance, Copyleft likely wasn't applied to the majority of thesis papers.

(As an aside, what's the proper plural for these things anyway? Theses? Thesii?)
posted by cCranium at 11:02 AM on August 15, 2000

For those of you interested in expressing your belief in copyleft on your chest or head, can help you try it on for size. And some of the proceeds for some purchases go to help the "cause."
posted by brittney at 12:57 PM on August 15, 2000

The idea of "copyleft" is to willfully revoke the exclusivity of those
rights under certain terms and conditions, so that anyone can copy and
distribute the work or properly attributed derivative works, while all
copies remain under the same terms and conditions as the original.
I misread the intent of that first "willfully", and could not figure out if this was being proposed to replace all copyright as we know it.
Starting out the main page with this quote did not help.
All knowledge all discoveries belong to everybody. ... All knowledge all discoveries belong to you by right. It is time to demand what belongs to you. -- William
S. Burroughs, The Job

Were they trying to get my knee's jerking? Is this like open source media? As long as it is voluntary, it does sound pretty cool.
posted by thirteen at 1:13 PM on August 15, 2000

It's definetely voluntary.

It's similar to the GPL in that it's a means of working within the current system, and freeing informatioin.

It's basically just a different copyright, using the same laws and regulations that enable copyright to be enforced.
posted by cCranium at 6:52 PM on August 16, 2000

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