The thesis plagiarism allegations against Kaohsiung City Councilor Jane Lee (李眉蓁), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate in the Kaohsiung mayoral by-election, has caused an uproar. It has also raised allegations of potential breaches of ethics in connection to the master’s theses or doctoral dissertations of some other politicians.
Should the ambiguous Copyright Act (著作權法) make it mandatory for students to make their theses or dissertations publicly available? This is an issue that should be openly discussed.
Article 15 of the act states that “the author of a work shall enjoy the right to publicly release it.”
For the sake of academic dissemination and public review, those earning a master’s degree or doctorate are “presumed” to have given their consent unless they explicitly request that it not be made public.
The Ministry of Education has told all universities to make theses and dissertations publicly available, but students, citing the act, often refuse to allow their works to be released.
On my recommendation, the ministry in 2011 amended the Copyright Act and the Degree Conferral Act (學位授予法) to coordinate the regulations.
When the Executive Yuan submitted the draft Degree Conferral Act amendment to the Legislative Yuan for review, the draft did not mention making it mandatory for students to make their thesis or dissertation public.
On my suggestion, then-KMT legislator Ko Chih-en (柯志恩) proposed adding a paragraph to Article 16 of the draft, which was passed in 2018. It dictates that students obtaining a graduate degree must give a copy of their thesis or dissertation to the National Central Library and their university library for storage.
The copy at the National Central Library should be made available to the public unless “the content involves confidential information, patent matters or is not permitted to be provided on statutory grounds and this has been confirmed by the university,” in which case “the person is permitted to not provide a copy or public access and the material in question will be placed under embargo for a certain period.”
A regulation that allows students not to make their thesis or dissertation public makes no sense.
Generally, authors should not leak any such information in academic papers, so how could it be included and cited as a reason for keeping their work from public review?
The amendment to the Degree Conferral Act did not provide a fundamental solution to the problem. Although it allowed the National Central Library to make copies of theses and dissertations public within its confines without infringing upon an author’s “right of disclosure,” members of the public still cannot see the works unless they visit the library in person.
If a university or an individual discloses the content of someone else’s thesis or dissertation, it would still be an infringement of the author’s right of disclosure, which is protected by the Copyright Act. This is absurd and baffling.
The ultimate solution to this problem is to amend the Copyright Act article that says that the author is “presumed” to have consented to the public release of their work, changing the word “presumed” to “deemed.”
Doing so would lift the long-standing dark cloud over Taiwan’s academic ethics, and thesis plagiarists would have no place to hide.
Are Taiwanese lawmakers willing to amend the Copyright Act to make their theses and dissertations public?
Chang Chung-hsin is an assistant professor at Soochow University’s School of Law.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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