We received a complaint from an author claiming that her PhD thesis had been plagiarized in a journal article. After many discussions, the editorial office decided that the authors should resolve this issue among themselves, as it was an author dispute.
After further correspondence, the editorial office is now also saying that because the thesis is not published anywhere, there is no need to cite it in the reference list. The instructions for authors state that: "The list of references should only include works that are cited in the text and that have been published or accepted for publication. Personal communications and unpublished works should only be mentioned in the text."
There are many opinions/views/cases available on different websites. But the prevailing view seems to be that any document, whether an unofficial discussion piece (or an unpublished thesis?), must be cited. What is the opinion of the COPE Forum?
The Forum were unanimous in their assertion that the PhD thesis should be cited. Even if the PhD thesis is unpublished, it should still be cited. It counts as a type of publication. The intellectual property belongs to the authors, so their rights may have been violated.
However, the editor raised another issue. The Forum were told by the editor that one of the authors of the paper is a supervisor of the PhD thesis. Hence there may be incorrect author attribution here. Should the author of the PhD thesis in fact be an author on the paper? At this point it is impossible for the editor to sort this out, so the editor should contact the institution with this information, presented in a neutral way, without making any accusations. The institution need to investigate who owns the data. Following the investigation, the editor may have to publish a correction. In the meantime, one suggestion was to publish an expression of concern in the journal.
The editor sent the advice of the COPE Forum to the complaining author who said he would discuss the possibility of publishing an erratum with the authors of the article. The editor is awaiting a response.
Follow up (September 2013):
In the end, the author concerned decided that he did not want to escalate the case to the university authorities. This editor considers the case now closed.