Submitting a thesis in electronic form for the web can often raise concerns about plagiarism.

In 2010 UCL Library Services conducted a survey(external link) into the management of e-theses in UK Higher Education. This indicated that although plagiarism concerns were commonly expressed, actual incidence tends to be low and concerns can often be assuaged through advocacy and education. The benefits to researchers and authors in having their research accessible via an open access repository are very likely to outweigh any perceived risk of plagiarism.

There are a number of measures in place that can help protect authors from plagiarism of their theses held in EThOS:
  • EThOS requires researchers to register before a thesis is downloaded or ordered for digitisation. In the unlikely event of malevolent use of the thesis, EThOS would be able to track all users who had accessed the thesis.
  • Users must also agree to terms and conditions of use for every thesis downloaded or ordered for digitisation.
  • The robust Notice and Takedown process allows an author to request immediate removal of their thesis from EThOS if you have concerns about its use.
EThOS has never yet needed to track usage of a thesis for any reason including potential plagiarism.

Since the launch of EThOS in 2009, open access deposit of research outputs including doctoral theses has become increasingly common. The vast majority of repositories allow immediate download of full-text content without barriers such as login or password authentication. There are strong indications that the login requirement for EThOS users is now seen as a barrier to effective use and some participating institutions have called for the removal of this process. Other institutions value the additional layer of control that EThOS presents and might in fact support the deposit of theses in EThOS but not in their own fully open repository. It is likely that EThOS will consult with the community on the removal of the login process during 2014.

Protective Techniques

The use of plagiarism detection technologies is widespread in UK Higher Education and they are seen to be effective in educating students to ensure they do not inadvertently plagiarise other people’s work.

In 2012, early discussions took place between EThOS and iParadigms, the providers of the Turnitin and iThenticate systems, to explore whether EThOS might offer a level of reassurance to thesis authors by including all EThOS-held theses in the iParadigms corpus of material against which its systems check newly submitted work. The aim would not be to detect possible plagiarised content in the theses themselves but to detect and report on the extent of plagiarism that might have occurred against the open access thesis.

Initial consultation with the HE EThOS community provided valuable feedback that indicated we should explore potential issues further before moving to a pilot project. Questions that would need to be considered include:
  • Would institutions need to seek author permission before each thesis is added to the plagiarism detection corpus? How could this be implemented?
  • What proportion of plagiarism cases overall might be detected via a single technology system?
  • Does the resource required outweigh the benefits achieved for authors, academic departments and institutions as a whole?
Further Information
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