Thursday, November 6, 2008
Here's an interesting case: 104 writers of master's and doctoral thesis are suing the China National Knowledge Infrastructure database (CNKI) [China | US mirror site] in Chaoyang District, Beijing for putting their theses on line without their permission. According to the plaintiffs, CNKI (operated by a company called Tong Fang, which to the best of my knowledge is owned by Tsinghua University), obtained copies of their theses, scanned and digitized them, and made them available for downloading, all in order to make high profits. They are seeking an apology and compensation.
I'm not an expert in copyright law, but if CNKI didn't get the authors' permission, it looks like a pretty open-and-shut case to me. But I want to talk about the business issue, not the legal one. It seems obvious to me that CNKI should have adopted a different business model. Instead of publishing the theses without seeking permission or paying for them, CNKI should have contacted the authors and offered to put the theses on line if the authors paid CNKI. Let's face it: very few master's and doctoral theses are really worth publishing. Academic authors in China regularly pay to get published in certain journals. If CNKI had treated its web site as a publication opportunity for the authors, to be withheld from them unless they paid, the authors probably would have done so happily - especially given that the database for master's theses was called "Full-Text Database of Outstanding Chinese Master's Theses" (中国优秀硕士学位论文全文数据库). That's exactly the kind of thing people are often willing to pay for.
I'm curious - do my Chinese readers agree with this analysis?