Case text (Anonymised)
We received a review paper and it was accepted and published on our website. We then noticed that one of the figures had been copied from a paper published in another journal.
Before publication, we asked the authors if the figures were original or if they needed references, and the authors responded that they were original. After confirmation of the similarity of one figure to a published figure, we contacted the corresponding author again and he/she said they had not seen the paper and it was submitted by a student.
As the paper was “in press”, we thought that we may be able to withdrawn it. We contacted the research deputy of our university and the author’s university but we have received no reply.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum
• Is this major plagiarism? Can the authors remove the figure and publish this paper or should the paper be withdrawn?
• Should we contact the author’s university again?
The Forum agreed that there are two issues here: the authorship issue and the plagiarized figure. Regarding the plagiarized figure, there may be copyright issues, so the editor may like to consider contacting a Copyright Clearance Centre to obtain permission to publish the figure in a review article. The editor may decide that the use of one figure is not a major plagiarism issue and he may wish to educate, rather than punish, the author. The editor should emphasize to the author that having permission to use the figure is not the same as having permission to publish it. It is acceptable to re-use a figure if the author has permission and if the original figure is cited. But the potential copyright issue may be more serious than the plagiarism issue. This can sometimes depend on the nature and complexity of the figure itself and whether the author has made an honest attempt to redraw the figure.
Regarding the authorship issue, the Forum suggested contacting the institution. It is up to the institution to resolve the author dispute.
The Forum advised that the paper cannot be withdrawn—if it is available online, it is considered already published, and therefore it has to treated as published material.