Embargoed and restricted theses

In exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary for authors to restrict access to their thesis for a limited period. Restrictions may be considered when the thesis is concerned with topics that are politically, commercially or industrially sensitive. The thesis embargo period will depend on the individual institution’s regulation, and may typically last for 6 months to two years, extendable for a finite period of time.

Following research(external link) in 2010 into e-theses in the UK HE sector, UCL have produced best practice summaries on sensitive content(external link) and embargoes(external link).

Digital repositories have almost universally adopted the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH). This protocol supports interoperability among digital repositories and explicitly makes it possible to harvest and share metadata about the repositories’ resources. By implementing the OAI protocol institutions are clearly expressing their intention to share data in the spirit of the open access movement.

How does EThOS handle embargoed theses?

It is EThOS policy to display the metadata for all known theses as far as possible so that a full national record exists of all theses awarded.

EThOS will never make an embargoed thesis available. All thesis metadata held in an institutional repository is harvested and added to EThOS. If an institution holds records for its embargoed theses in its repository, then EThOS will harvest the data along with the embargo information. The metadata is displayed in EThOS but the full text of the thesis will not be available for download or ordering until the embargo expiry date is reached. See EThOS ID 540409(external link) for an example of an EThOS record for an embargoed thesis (until 2015).

If institutions do not wish the metadata for embargoed theses to be displayed in EThOS, it is the institutions’ responsibility either to inform the Library or, preferably, to remove the metadata for embargoed theses from the institutional repository.

For more information about metadata formats for embargoed theses please see the Metadata section.

Other reasons for restricted access

Where a thesis is not yet available to access via EThOS, a user may request a digital copy to be made by placing an order through the EThOS digitisation service. Institutions send the original paper thesis to the British Library for digitisation and addition to EThOS. Occasionally, however, there may be a reason – other than an embargo - why the thesis cannot be made available on open access.
In such cases, the EThOS record is updated with “Can’t Supply” information and the user is informed. Reasons for restricting open access to the full text include the fragile condition of the original thesis; extensive third party copyright that has not been cleared; author cannot be traced to obtain permission; or simply that the author declines to give permission for a digital copy to be made.

Freedom of Information

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA), (known in Scotland as the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA)), gives anyone a right of access to any information held by an institution, unless an exemption applies, regardless of who owns the intellectual property rights in that information. This means that anyone has the right to see the information held in any format by any part of the Library, unless refusing access can be justified in terms of a FOIA, or FOISA, exemption. Thus, it is not sufficient for the author to indicate that they want to restrict an item; they must also explain the reason for that restriction in terms of a FOIA, or FOISA, exemption. Regarding theses a number of possible exemptions may apply under the Act including where:
  • The material is due for publication, or the author is actively seeking to publish the material
  • Release of the material would substantially prejudice the commercial interests of any person
  • The material includes information that was obtained under a promise of confidentiality.
Further information on Freedom of Information can be found here.

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