We received a request by an author who states not to have contributed to an article published in 2015. The author claims that his name was used without his knowledge and that the corresponding author has been retired for several years and can no longer be reached. At the time of submission, we received a copyright transfer signed with the author’s name (we request all authors to sign the form). We are not in favour of withdrawing the article as we feel we have a signed copyright form.
Questions for the COPE Forum
• How should we reply to the author requesting withdrawal of the paper?
• We believe a copyright transfer form signed by all author has legal value for us: is this the case?
The presenter told the Forum that the author claims that he did not sign any copyright transfer form. The Forum asked if the journal was confident that the letter is from the author. It might be worthwhile confirming who he is, and obtaining his full affiliation and contact details in case he has been confused with a different author with the same name. The Forum noted that it is very difficult for the journal to work out exactly what has happened, so the advice was to contact the institution for help. The institution can determine the facts of the case and determine if the signed copyright form was faked, which would be fraud. The journal could consider publishing a correction when the correct authorship of the paper is verified.
This case raises the issue of how journals communicate with authors after submission of papers. COPE advises that it is good policy for journals to copy all authors, not just the corresponding author, in their written communications and emails regarding papers submitted for publication. The Forum would advise handling papers in this way in the future.
The Forum advised that if the journal decides to disregard the author’s request, they should seek legal advice first.
The editor contacted the author but received no further comments. The editor considers the case closed.