Pre-publication in a discussion paper series

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Case number:

Case text (Anonymised)

A submission in the economics field to an interdisciplinary social science journal was accepted, following full external review. Subsequently, the publisher wrote to the author stating that during editorial checks, it had come to their attention that a full manuscript of a paper with the same name was available in a discussion paper series and kindly asked that this version be removed from the website so that the publisher has the right of first publication.

The publisher stated that upon acceptance for publication, authors may deposit the abstract of their paper or an executive summary on this website. They said that in accordance with the publisher policy for online deposit of work, preprints or post-prints should only be deposited into institutional repositories or faculty websites following an embargo period effective on official publication of the paper. The publisher said they will not be able to proceed to publication of the paper until this issue has been resolved.

In the economics field, as in many other fields, it is standard practice to deposit in such a series an early version of a paper that is subsequently submitted for journal publication. The present case concerns a prestigious discussion paper series that has approaching 9000 entries. Since a published version would have undergone substantial changes following external review, researchers would inevitably seek out and cite the later journal version; indeed, leading websites in the field provide details of subsequent journal publication, as available. Generally, leading repositories, including this one, are unwilling to remove papers from its series.

Question(s) for the COPE Forum
• Is the publisher’s stand justified?
• Can the publisher reasonably insist on “right of first publication”, even where research funding may have been secured from university or external sources?
• What should be the response of the journal editor?
• Are there differences in accepted practice across disciplines?


Many journals now accept papers that have previously been published as “preprints”. Preprints have a formal DOI so are generally considered prior publication, in contrast with the discussion papers described in this case.

If the editor wishes to publish the paper, and it is standard practice in his field, then the Forum agreed he should have full editorial independence. The publisher should not interfere in the decision, especially if a consensus or joint solution has not been agreed by the editor and publisher.

The Forum advised that the journal needs a very specific and transparent policy, stating clearly in its author instructions what the journal will publish and in what form. The issue can be very complicated for authors when different publishers or even different journals within the same publisher have different policies. The advice was to have a discussion and resolve the issue with the publisher.

In 2014, there was a Forum discussion on a related issue “Issues related to papers submitted to discussion journals” (“discussion”%20journals_final%20%281%29.pdf) which reminds us that whether a DOI has been assigned and if the former version is hosted by a publisher are also factors that need to be taken into account. The usual practice is not to remove former versions but to link to later ones.

Follow up: 

The editor brought the advice offered at the Forum to the attention of the Publisher. Following internal discussions, a new policy was adopted, and published, by the publisher, very much in agreement with the advice offered at the COPE Forum.
The new policy (edited version) states:
“Publisher does not consider a working paper prior publication, nor would the existence of a working paper online disqualify an article from being considered for publication. Additionally, Publisher would not expect a working paper to be removed from its server or conference website. However, this policy is only applicable if:
- The author declares to the journal editor on submission of their article that a working paper upon which the paper is based is publicly available;
- It is expected that the submitted article is substantially developed from the working paper, be it with further discussion or a different conclusion;
- Any working paper must be fully referenced on the submitted article, such as ‘This article is based upon a working paper X, hosted on X.’;
- Authors should not assign copyright when uploading their work to a preprint server or conference website.
- This policy does not apply to any working paper that has been included in a conference proceeding volume or publication which has received an ISSN or ISBN.”

Thus the journal was able to publish the paper in the special issue without further hindrance.