October 05, 2009

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I do not usually like authors to deposit unpublished papers to WRAP.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.

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  1. Ben

    I work for a repository in Indiana, USA, and we have precisely this problem as well. Several authors who would otherwise permit us to post their dissertations have declined because they are concerned publishers will not accept articles or books derived from the dissertation.

    06 Oct 2009, 04:06

  2. Stevan Harnad


    Author self-posting of published content to an Open Access Repository is neither publishing nor re-publishing; it is merely access-provision (to already-published content).

    Author self-posting of unpublished content to an Open Access Repository is “publishing” in the legal sense (making public) but not in the academic sense, which counts journal articles and books as “published works” (in an academic curriculum vitae, sometimes also with a special subcategory “peer-reviewed”); otherwise the works are listed under “unpublished” and “in preparation.” The new category “posted” may eventually evolve too, but it still amounts to no more than vanity-press self-publishing unless there is some form of third-party quality control, with a track-record for quality standards.

    A growing number of universities are beginning to mandate the digital deposit of their thesis and dissertation output in their institutional repositories. At the same time, a growing number of universities as well as research funders are beginning to mandate that all refereed research must be deposited too. This makes for a timely synergy between the practices of the younger and older generation of researchers as the Open Access era unfolds. It also maximizes the uptake, usage and impact of university research output at all stages, as well as providing rich and powerful new metrics to monitor and reward research productivity and impact. It is important to integrate universities’ ETD and research output repositories, mandates and metrics as well as to provide the mechanism for those deposits that may need to be made Closed Access rather than Open Access: Repositories need to implement the “email eprint request” Button for all Closed Access Deposits. Any would-be user webwide, having reached the metadata of a Closed Access Deposit can, with one click, request an eprint for research purposes; the author instantly receives an automatic email and can then, again with one click, authorize the automatic emailing of one copy to the user by the repository software. This feature is important for fulfilling immediate research usage needs during any journal-article embargo period, and it also gives the authors of dissertations they hope to publish as books a way to control who has access to the dissertation. Digital dissertations will also benefit from the reference-linking and book-citation metrics that will be provided by harvesters of the distributed institutional repository metadata (which will also include the metadata and reference lists of all university book output). Dissertation downloads as well as eprint-requests will also provide useful new research impact metrics.


    06 Oct 2009, 11:22

  3. Stevan Harnad


    See: “Ingelfinger Over-Ruled” http://bit.ly/nteti

    06 Oct 2009, 11:32

  4. Nick Sheppard

    Hi Jenny

    Yeah, what Stevan said:-)

    Also just wanted to mention that I did hear, anecdotally, that publishers were beginning to actively look for publishable content in repositories of e-theses so there is, perhaps, a developing advantage for PhD students to make their theses openly available in an IR – especially as ETHoS takes off.

    Sorry to be so vague…I can’t for the life of me remember who I was talking to about this but would be good to hear from any folk in academic publishing who might yet find the next Stephen Hawking in an IR!

    06 Oct 2009, 13:01

  5. Jenny Delasalle

    Thanks to all commenters. Our repository FAQs explain the difference between publishing content on the web and formal publication, just as Stevan Harnad describes it. I think we’re doing pretty well at making theses available at Warwick (250 odd and growing daily) as we do mandate the deposit of an electronic version of PhD theses. We don’t have the request a copy option for various technical reasons (I know that they could easily be solved if we actually had a developer dedicated to the repository, but we don’t!).

    I have also heard the same anecdotes as Nick Sheppard, but I have not heard any concrete evidence, other than that “VDM Publishing” have targetted at least one of our former students, and that particular author does not consider it to be advantageous to follow up publication with that company.

    I’m really hoping to go beyond the vague and the anecdotal, to be sure that I’m advising our students about what is in their best interest when it comes to publication chances, and persuading them to not apply an embargo unless it is actually necessary. I think that my next course of action probably ought to be to enquire of a few publishers…

    06 Oct 2009, 13:19

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    07 Oct 2009, 08:59

  7. Ralph Musgrave

    The above discussion (as far as I can see) omits the point that one of the motives for depositing theses is to stop anyone else pinching the ideas while one trails around from one journal to the next trying to get the thing published. At least that has always been my motive.

    Repositories would be much improved if they had the option of having theses NOT available to the public. This would solve the above “idea pinching” problem plus journals considering publicaton could not claim the thing had effectively been published.

    There is one repository that DOES provide this service. It is in the US and specialises in film scripts, though its open for anyone to use. But this costs.

    11 Dec 2009, 18:06

  8. Jenny Delasalle

    Hi Ralph,

    You’re right, we did not discuss the difference in how a repository deposit that is locked against public access might be treated. Some institutional repositories do indeed allow that function and it’s something that we at WRAP do support for theses although not for journal articles, at present.

    I’ll blog about the possible confusions separately!


    14 Dec 2009, 09:55

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