A paper was published with four authors from two universities and the contact author provided an exclusive license form on behalf of all of the authors. After publication, one of the authors contacted the editor claiming a case of plagiarism. The claim is that the published paper was a direct copy of an MSc thesis which this person had supervised 7 years previously. Complications arise in that the first author of the paper was the MSc student, now working at the other university, and the complainant was an author of the published paper. Thus apparently the authors included the person whose work was being plagiarised and the supervisor of that work, who is also complaining about the publication of the paper. The claim was that the other authors had plagiarised the MSc thesis and had no right to publish the material.
As editor, I was asked to take action but my only route was to contact the authors by e-mail. I received an email from the corresponding author assuring me that all procedures had been correctly followed and also an email from the first author, the MSc student on whose thesis the paper was based and now a PhD student with the corresponding author's university, stating that he was happy with the publication. However, I have had another co-author request the paper they have been included on be delayed as they had not known of its submission until we contacted them. The author making the complaint states that the work belongs to him, not his student, but I understand that an MSc is written by the student and is the student's own work hence the student would have copyright and the right to subsequently publish papers from the MSc data. Additionally, the system we use automatically informs all authors and co-authors on submission of a paper that the paper has been submitted so the delay is also a problem.
What actions are possible?
The advice from the Forum, in the editor’s absence, was to contact the author’s institution, informing them of the situation, and request that they conduct an investigation. It is not for the editor to resolve the situation.