Authors A and B submitted a paper PV1 to an international conference which was accepted by the editor E of the conference proceedings. The copyright of the paper was assigned to the publishers PC of the conference proceedings. The editor E of the conference proceedings is also the editor of an international journal J published by PJ. The editor E invited author A to consider submitting a revised and extended paper for possible publication in journal J
Author A submitted the revised paper PV2. The paper was reviewed and accepted by editor E for publication in journal J. The proof of paper PV2 was posted on the journal’s website by publisher PJ. Shortly afterwards Author C contacted Editor E claiming that he was also an author of the paper PV2 and further claimed that he should have been listed as the first author. Author C expressed his annoyance at being excluded from the authorship of the paper by contacting the Vice-Chancellors of the universities of authors A and B. Author C claimed that Authors A and B had passed off his work as their own.
Editor E invited all authors A, B and C to contact him and to provide him with any information they thought relevant. Authors A and B confirmed that Author C had worked with them as a research associate but left before the end of his contract. On looking at the information provided by the authors, the Editor E noticed an interesting discrepancy between the information provided. Author A claimed that an earlier related paper ERP had been published in another journal J2 with the authors names as A, B and C whereas Author C claimed that they were in the order C, A, B. Editor E checked the paper ERP and found that the printed version had the author names in the order A, B and C whereas the web based abstract had the authors names in the order C, A and B. Editor E contacted the publisher of journal J2 and was told that this arose because Author A had asked for the names to be reordered in the late stages of the pre-press of the paper ERP. The original order on the web based abstract had not been corrected. Editor E concluded that there had been a longstanding dispute between Author C and Authors A and B. The evidence provided by A, B and C relating to the authorship of paper PV2 appeared inconclusive to Editor E.
Editor E informed all three authors that he decided that paper PV2 should not be published in journal J until the authorship has been agreed by all three authors. He encouraged the authors to start communicating to agree on the matter. The Editor has not heard from Author C but Author A engaged a solicitor who has written formally to Editor E. The solicitor seeks to encourage Editor E to arrange publication of the paper PV2. The solicitor claims that the copyright of PV2 rests with Authors A and B forgetting that they originally assigned it to publisher PC.
The Editor has had numerous emails from Authors A and B. Their complaint is that Author C has stopped the publication of their paper. It is clear that a disaffected research collaborator could maliciously stop further publications by his erstwhile coworkers by claiming authorship of all of their future papers. On the other hand, authors who leave a research team should be given appropriate acknowledgement for their efforts. What is appropriate in this case is unclear, but Author C was not given any acknowledgment because Authors A and B did not think it appropriate. The usual advice to authors is that they should agree authorship prior to submission but in this case Authors A and B claim that Author C is not an author so that they have nothing to agree.
The Forum agreed that the editor has done all he can in this messy authorship dispute. As the institution has been unhelpful, it was suggested that what was needed was an independent arbitrator or the funding agency that could liaise between the authors and come up with a solution. The Forum did not think there was a legal case for the journal to answer, and in any case the journal should be indemnified by the publisher.
What is important here is the fact that the paper has been published, as it was published on the website. It also has a DOI number, which means that it is citable. COPE’s view is that it is wrong for a publisher to take a paper down from the website without due process (for example, a formal retraction). COPE would advise the publisher to put the paper back on the website. The Forum agreed that a notice should be attached to the paper to the effect that the paper will not be published in print until the author dispute is resolved. In the meantime, the advice was to tell the authors it is up to them to sort out the dispute and suggest they allow a third party, someone they all agree upon, to arbitrate and hopefully resolve the situation.