Our journal recently approved a commentary article for publication, after the manuscript had been substantially revised during the editorial process. In the course of preparing the text for the article proof, the copy editor discovered that the authors had published the revised manuscript on an external public website, just prior to receiving notification from our system of our formal acceptance for publication. Although formally accepted, the article has not yet be been published (neither online nor in print).
In our journal, authors are required, at the time of submission of a manuscript, to confirm that the manuscript has not previously been published in other media, that they consent to giving our journal exclusive rights to represent, duplicate and publish the manuscript, and that written consent for subsequent use of the manuscript must be obtained from the Journal.
Immediately after submission of a manuscript, all authors receive a confirmation email in which we repeat that the content/manuscript must not be discussed in any form of media until the manuscript is published by the journal, without a specific exception from us. This message is repeated in several subsequent communications, including at the time of acceptance for publication.
The timing of the publication of this manuscript on an external website falls at an unusual intersection between submission of a revised manuscript, acceptance of a final version of the manuscript and publication of the final manuscript. We judge the situation as somewhat different from the COPE flowcharts for redundant publication. We have informed the authors that we have postponed publication until we receive the COPE Forum's recommendation. In the meantime, we have asked the authors to remove the content of the manuscript from the external website.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum
• Is it acceptable to permanently withhold publication of this otherwise accepted manuscript?
The editor updated the Forum that the author has now removed the manuscript from the external public website, stating that it was a technical error.
The Forum suggested that this case highlights the lack of knowledge of some authors with regard to the consequences of posting on blogs, websites, etc, and that education is needed around these issues to reinforce the message that this constitutes publishing.
The Forum noted that this was not redundant publication but could have been a breach of copyright, if the paper had not been taken down from the website. With so many publishing models available, is it conceivable that the authors were confused? Editors should ensure their journal policies on permissible duplicate publication are up to date. For some journals, publication of manuscripts on preprint servers, for example, is permissible, but this should be clearly indicated on the journal website. In the present case, the journal does not have an open access policy and at the time of submission the journal assumes copyright of the article.
The Forum agreed that the authors were in the wrong here, but the right thing to do now is for the journal to publish the paper. If the editor feels she would like to do more, she could consider contacting the authors’ institution as a way of educating the authors and providing a gentle reminder of the appropriate behaviour in such instances, and the contract and copyright issues involved when authors submit a paper for publication.
The authors were understanding of the journal's concerns and removed the content from the external website. The journal proceeded to publish the manuscript.