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Intellectual property

All policies on intellectual property, including copyright and publishing licenses, should be clearly described. In addition, any costs associated with publishing should be obvious to authors and readers. Policies should be clear on what counts as prepublication that will preclude consideration. What constitutes plagiarism and redundant/overlapping publication should be specified

Our core practices

Core practices are the policies and practices journals and publishers need, to reach the highest standards in publication ethics. We include cases with advice, guidance for day-to-day practice, education modules and events on topical issues, to support journals and publishers fulfil their policies.

The careless surgeon


A paper was submitted in which a young surgeon described five patients who died over six months under the care of one surgeon. The author suggested that the surgeon was dangerous and that something should have been done. Nothing was done and the surgeon has since retired. The paper, a very personal one, provides an interesting insight into the difficulties that doctors have dealing with problem colleagues. Should the editors: _ attempt to get consent from the patients’ relatives?


Publication of misleading information and publication


I analysed the results of a randomised controlled trial that had just been completed by some of my colleagues. The trial compared an oxygen radical scavenger with a placebo in patients with acute myocardial infarction. One of the major outcome measures included infarct size,as measured by nuclear imaging.




A paper by Turkish authors was submitted to journal A. The paper was virtually the same as one published in the equivalent US journal B of the same specialty,but with different authors. The paper submitted to journal A seems to have been plagiarised from the paper published in journal B. The editor has written to the deans of the faculties of medicine to which the authors are attached. What more should he do?


A lost author and a new hypothesis


A paper was published in January 1998,and seven authors were credited. B was thanked for his contribution in the acknowledgements section. One year later B wrote to the editor, outlining two alleged incidents related to this paper. First, the cohort reported in the January 1998 paper was one that B had been working on since the early 1990s. In 1992–3 he sought collaboration with another research group. A grant was applied for and granted.


Questions of authorship, duplicate publication and copyright


In 1995 a group of nine authors published a paper in a leading general medical journal. Copyright was granted by all authors to the journal. In 1998 the senior author received a complimentary copy of a recently published book. One of the chapters was essentially a reprint of the original paper. It was attributed to the sixth, first and second authors. Neither the first nor second author (the guarantor) had ever heard of this chapter or the book.


An author plagiarising the work of the reviewer?


An author submitted part of his PhD thesis as a paper. The section editor of the journal asked the PhD supervisor to review the paper. This induced a very heated response from the reviewer who made various claims regarding the paper:
The author does not credit one of the tests he uses in his work
There is no proper acknowledgement of co-workers who perhaps should have been co-authors (including the reviewer himself).




A manuscript submitted to journal X was remarkably similar to a paper already published in journal Y. The similarities were noticed by one of the peer reviewers for journal X. The paper has been rejected by journal X but the editor has now written to each of the authors asking for an explanation and has told them that if a reasonable explanation is not forthcoming, she will inform the dean of the medical faculty from where the paper was submitted.


Double plagiarism


A researcher has written to us to point out that a paper published in a German journal in 1993 was put together almost verbatim from articles published in the BMJ in 1989 and the New England Journal of Medicine in 1992. About three quarters of the material in the article in the German paper comes from these two journals. It may be that the data are original but it seems unlikely. What should we do?


False memory syndrome


A doctor has submitted an account of how his daughter falsely accused him of having abused her as a child. His daughter is another British doctor. We would like to publish the account as part of a package of articles on false memory syndrome. The questions we are considering are: (1) Can it ever be right to publish something that describes the intimacies of a family conflict, to illustrate a subject?


Patient consent and non-consent


We published an article that contained a detailed account of a woman’s obstetric and psychiatric history. The information had been obtained from a court judgement and is published in Family Law Reports. The article had been written by two people who had never met the patient in question. The patient’s consent was not sought because the information was on the public record.