Alleged plagiarism

Case number: 

Case text (Anonymised)

Journal A published a review paper. About a year later, the author of a paper published in 1997 in Journal B wrote to say that he had come across the paper in Journal A during a literature search. He pointed out that parts of this paper were virtually identical with his paper in Journal B. Although the author of the article in Journal A had made one reference to his article, this was only to one specific point and the nearly identical sections had not been referenced. The editor of Journal A wrote to the author asking for an explanation. The author of the paper in Journal B works in a faculty of law. He discussed the two papers with colleagues who agreed that this was a violation of authorship and perhaps even copyright. He wanted to know how the journal intended to remedy the situation.


_ The author was somewhat naïve in using a fictitious letter to start his article, but it was not necessary to declare that it was a device. _ It highlights the problem of mistaking notes taken from published material as the author’s own. _ Contact the institution of the author of Journal A. _ An independent assessment should made. If there are substantive findings, the journal should report this.

Follow up: 

The author apologised, and said that no deliberate attempt to plagiarise had been made, but the editor of Journal A contacted the author’s institution. A careful review was undertaken, concluding in the end that there was no intentional plagiarism. The editor, with consent of all parties, sent this to the author and the complainant, explaining that the journal did not intend to take any further action. Nothing further has been heard from the complainant.

Advice on follow up: 

The editor had asked the author’s institution to conduct an investigation into the issue. The editor felt that the institution’s investigation had been even handed and thorough. The aggrieved party has written back and made several points: (i) He felt that it was inappropriate to rely on an employer to make a final recommendation. i(ii) The COPE guidelines do not include rules for review articles. (iii) The COPE guidelines do not differentiate between “conscious” and “unconscious plagiarism.” The editor indicated that although the employer had made a recommendation, she alone made the final decision, which was based on her own judgement, and not that of the employers. Many of the passages highlighted by the aggrieved author were ideas and concepts that had been published by several different authors and were not the sole provenance of that author. Although it is true that employers may have vested interests, this does not necessarily mean they are corrupt. The notion of conscious plagiarism implies that the plagiarism is intentional; unconscious plagiarism is unintentional. It is the former that attracts sanction, and the intention must be proven. The point of requesting an internal investigation is to provide the editor with the facts so that s/he may then make a judgement, and that there are no alternative mechanisms. The editor would write back to the aggrieved party detailing COPE’s discussion, stating that from the journal’s point of view, the case was closed.