Back in 2014, Diego Gomez, a master’s student at the University of Quindío in Colombia, came across a thesis in a library that he decided to upload to a server that anyone could access. The author of the document discovered this and claimed that his rights had been violated, and decided to sue.
Thanks to an agreement between the country and the US, Gomez is being prosecuted under US copyright law, and in his case, he faces a jail term of eight years. He’s been fighting against it in the courts ever since, and in the next few weeks, a verdict is due.
As reported by STAT News, Gomez, 29, said that he acted in “good faith, in gratitude for all the support I had received from other researchers in Colombia and other countries, and voluntarily for academic purposes and non-profit.” He told reporters that he had “never imagined that this activity could be considered a crime.”
The idea that sharing a thesis would result in economic damages to the author – the basis on which the case was made against Gomez – is obviously absurd. Theses are normally only ever read fully by their authors and two or three examiners – very rarely do they set the world on fire, at least in this form.
Academic papers, of course, are uploaded online all the time outside of the paywalls that most academic journals possess. You have sites like ResearchGate and arXiv, where authors of the papers tend to upload pre-prints or even final copies of academic papers for others to have a peek at.
It’s a fine line, though. Uploading even your own academic study to a freely accessible server is illegal if it’s already been accepted by a publishing house. That publisher now owns your work, and it seems ridiculous, but you often have to pay a fee to access it.