Author impersonating corresponding author without knowledge of coauthors
Case text (Anonymised)
We received an article which was accepted and published after an uneventful peer review process. The article was apparently written by seven authors from two universities. As part of our routine processes, all co-authors were alerted to a submission via the email addresses provided by the submitting author.
Some time after the article had been published, we received an email from the corresponding author (author B) to say that the paper had been submitted without his, or his co-authors, knowledge or permission. Author B says that the work reported is a result of a collaborative study between the authors listed on the paper, but that they had not yet agreed to prepare the reported work for publication. Author B claims that the first author of the article (author A) submitted the article to our journal under author B’s name using a fake email account.
Author A has written to us independently to say that they submitted the article in the name of author B using a fake email account and signed the Licence to Publish in the name of author B without the consent or knowledge of author B. Author A and author B have requested that the published article be withdrawn. Author B claims that there are mistakes in the article and that the co-authors disagree with some of the viewpoints in the article.
The editor plans to investigate, if necessary with support from the universities, to establish whether the published article is scientifically flawed, and is reviewing what the appropriate action should be to address the authorship situation described.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum
• If the article is scientifically sound, and therefore does not warrant retraction to protect the accuracy of the scientific record, what action should the editor take to address the claims made by author B regarding author A’s actions?
The Forum suggested this was a copyright issue. Copyright normally resides with the publisher, but if the publisher has not received permission from the authors then the publisher does not have a license to publish, and the paper must be removed from the website. This is also a case of serious deception. In addition, there may be data protection issues on the basis of the accuracy of the data as the author names are listed on the paper without their consent. The Forum suggested the journal may wish to seek legal advice.
One suggestion was to retract the paper, and re-publish if the licensing issues are resolved. The majority of the Forum were in agreement that the paper should not be hosted by the publisher any longer in its current state. The paper should be removed and a note put in its place with an explanation of the events. The institution then needs to take the lead on this matter. It is the responsibility of the institution to investigate the misconduct issue. The note on the website should remain until the outcome of the investigation by the institution.
Following discussion at the Forum, the editor sought legal advice from the publisher and contacted the institution concerned to request an investigation. The editor has now received a formal response from the institution which stated that the institution had directed author B to consult with the co-authors listed to clarify the authorship of the article concerned and provide an updated licence to publish to the journal. The journal is currently waiting on correspondence from author B regarding these matters.
Follow up (May 2016)
The Editor has now received an updated licence to publish, and the author group have reached an agreement on the correct authorship for the article concerned. The journal will publish a correction notice to update the authorship and now considers the matter closed.