Theses and early draft deposit in repositories: is that publication?
Does repository deposit of a work constitute publication and as such jeopardise the chances of publication by a more prestigious/established/profitable method and another agent?
It's not really a question that I can answer yet. I am certain that repository deposit ought not to cause any problems with regard to publication elsewhere, and I have not come across evidence to prove that it would cause a problem except in one particular instance that I investigated and which I describe below. But I'd like to gather more evidence on the topic because I can't prove that it isn't a problem either!
I do not usually like authors to deposit unpublished papers to WRAP. Part of my reason for that is that we want the highest quality content we can get: if the article has been accepted for publication, then that is some measure of quality. PhD theses are obviously of high quality and a separate case in their own right from this point of view: these are added to WRAP.
Quality issues aside, if an author were to write a paper with the intention of submitting it to a journal but wanted to make it available on OA as soon as possible through repository deposit (never happened yet although we've had some that have been accepted and are forthcoming), I would advise that author to look at the journal publisher's copyright agreement that s/he would be asked to sign. I know of at least one publisher who would consider repository deposit of the paper to constitute a prior publication, thus preventing the author from being able to sign the copyright form stating that it had not previously been published elsewhere: this was the British Psychological Society, who I investigated over a year ago.
Inability to sign the standard copyright form might mean that the work could never be published in that journal or by that publisher, but alternatively the form might be amended. I expect that the publisher's position would depend upon the precise circumstances.
It occurs to me that the matter of an early version of a paper is probably different than that of a thesis from which a book or article might be published: after all, the content would have to be substantially re-written from a thesis, whilst different versions of papers might be very similar, so a publisher might be more concerned about repository deposit of papers but not as worried about thesis deposit.
Of course, our students can opt out of their thesis being made available in WRAP, even though they do have to submit it. So, if a student was hoping to be published and was unsure of the publisher's policy then s/he could always embargo the repository version from being made available anyway.
This is a big issue, and one that needs more thought and investigation, I believe. Because I would like to be able to advise students to allow repository availability of their theses, knowing more about how publishers would react.