When did I license Library & Archives Canada to sell my dissertation?

I’m discovering that the ProQuest thesis and dissertation database is full of surprises. Like my dissertation.

As a doctoral student, I had never consulted my alma mater‘s graduate student calendar copyright policy. While it states that the student is the copyright holder of the thesis or dissertation, it also stipulates, “as a condition of engaging in graduate study in the university, [that] the author of a thesis grants certain licences and waivers with respect to the circulation and copying of the thesis.” These licenses are for the university library, naturally, but there’s also one for Library & Archives Canada (LAC), to which the dissertation author grants “a licence to microfilm the thesis under carefully specified conditions” (7).

I didn’t read the fine print of the university’s copyright policy for graduate students, but before I defended, my supervisor made a point of advising me to treat and protect the work as my scholarly capital. And it was in this work that I began researching copyright. So I think I would remember if I was ever briefed on the “carefully specified conditions” of the LAC’s license. I wasn’t.

Canada's Fortress of Knowledgtude. LAC photo CC-licensed from Padraic Ryan.

The LAC cover on my dissertation in the ProQuest database informs me, however, that I (“the author”) have

granted a non-exclusive license allowing Library and Archives Canada to reproduce, publish, archive, preserve, conserve, communicate to the public by telecommunication or on the Internet, loan, distribute and sell theses worldwide, for commercial or non-commercial purposes, in microform, paper, electronic and/or any other formats.

The cover also assures me that – while LAC has just said it can basically do whatever it wants with the work – “the author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis.”

Now, most of this I don’t object to, in principle. I’m fully on board with archiving and preserving. I support LAC as a vital institution serving Canadians’ public interest. And I’m all for open access – not that the ProQuest database itself is open access (though it does make more research more accessible). But I do object to the LAC’s unclearly-got license to sell my work internationally and distribute it “for commercial purposes” – like, say, to this ProQuest database, whose own bottom line the dissertation now gets to gild, with neither my informed consent nor share in any profits.

Not that I would expect the work to yield much of anything in that way. It’s a dissertation, after all – it’s not even a book. (Which suggests an implication for graduates who, unlike Yours Truly, might want to turn their dissertations into books: does ProQuest database availability compromise publish-ability?)

What I object to is the commercial latitude of the LAC’s license, and the opacity of the university policy about this license. None of the protocols of depositing the dissertation with the university involved any “careful specification” of the license I apparently gave to Library & Archives Canada to sell my work.

Work Cited
Graduate Student Calendar. U of Guelph, 2012.

5 responses to “When did I license Library & Archives Canada to sell my dissertation?

  1. You ask a number of very interesting questions and end with this hypothetical one…
    Which suggests an implication for graduates who, unlike Yours Truly, might want to turn their dissertations into books: does ProQuest database availability compromise publish-ability?
    Have you been able to find answers? I hope to complete my dissertation this year and as such will be granting certain rights to the university library and, I assume LAC. I hope to use my dissertation as the basis for further work as many before have done. Could I say no? I am not totally sure of the ramifications of what you have outlined

  2. I haven’t found an answer yet (having just posted this yesterday, then got back to the dozen things I was supposed to be doing).
    What I would advise, though, is that you contact your supervisor, and/or your faculty of graduate studies, to ask 1) to see your faculty’s copyright policy for dissertations (it may even be in the graduate student calendar), and 2) to make specific exemptions to the LAC license. Specifically, you may stipulate that your dissertation be exempted from upload (by LAC or any other party) to ProQuest. Your reason for doing so would be (I presume) to keep the work or parts of it more publishable; I might think you wouldn’t actually need to explain your reasons – it is your work, and you are the copyright owner, after all – but if your university has specific open-access requirements, it might see LAC licensing as enabling such access.
    (But like I said, university library database access – while it may be much wider than that offered by the bricks & mortar library – is still not truly open access.)

  3. Speaking as someone who, unlike Yours Truly, DID turn the dissertation into a book, I can say that the publisher never for a moment raised any flags about feeling that the originality of the material as book content might have been compromised because of its availability on a dissertation database. Which may simply mean that publishers aren’t themselves yet aware of this.

    The other issue that I’m now alarmed about, though, is where exactly the objection lies. In the original post, Yours Truly claims that it’s only the profit motive of the Proquest release that’s at issue, but in the comment above, the issue shifts to the protection of the absolute ownership of the IP. Here’s where I get nervous about my own convoluted feelings about copyright protection. Instinctively, I want to agree with this position, but logically, what is the justification for insisting on the right to mash-up, re-cover, re-post, or otherwise take advantage of someone’s original song (or poetry) but draw the line at scholarly research?

    • Yes, it is very convoluted. I certainly wouldn’t want to be misunderstood to advocate for open cultural resources while doing the same for closed knowledge resources. The last comment tried to address the first comment’s specific concern – yours does so on much firmer experiential grounds. Maybe the database presence isn’t anything like a dealbreaker for publishers. (Also since publishers categorically do not want to publish dissertations as dissertations.)
      My main concern, as in the original post, is over the lack of clarity or briefing in graduate faculty policy and procedure, and the commercial repurposing being done without my knowledge. I don’t think those concerns contradict my commitment to open access, but if I’m missing something, do let me know.

  4. Thanks for clarifying that for me. Refocussing the frame like that assuages my confusion. I was stuck on the rhetoric around “it’s YOUR property,” etc. and how it seemed contrary to your other statements.

    I don’t think that you can readily get an entire dissertation from Proquest, so that offers protection at least to the point that it will only be available to those who are willing to pay for it. I realize this only exacerbates the Proquest profit objection, but at least means that presumably original dissertation work won’t circulate willy-nilly. (Experientially, I can confirm that doesn’t happen after its publication in book version either.)

    But I definitely agree with your fundamental objection, that graduate programs should be much more proactively clear on explaining this to students. My guess is that they don’t even realize it themselves.

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