The term authorship can refer to the creator or originator of an idea (eg, the author of the theory of relativity) or the individual or individuals who develop and bring to fruition the product that disseminates intellectual or creative works (eg, the author of a poem or a scholarly article). Authorship conveys significant privileges, responsibilities, and legal rights; in the scholarly arena, it also forms the basis for rewards and career advancement. Various disciplines have norms, guidelines, and rules governing authorship; some of those rules preserve lineage of ideas or works, conception and production of studies or experiments to validate theory, analysis of outcomes, and the actual writing of work to disseminate knowledge. Authors are accountable for following discipline-specific guidelines when they engage in authorship activities; journal editors and publishers are accountable for making author guidelines transparent and appropriate for the medium (scholarly books, journal articles, creative writing). At a minimum, authors should guarantee that they have done the work as presented and that they have not violated any other author’s legal rights (eg, copyright) in the process.
Authorship is one of the most common concerns of COPE members, at least in terms of topics brought for discussion at COPE Forums. There are 87 separate cases listed under the headings of “Authorship”, “Changes in authorship”, or “Disputed authorship” on COPE’s website. There are also six separate flowcharts devoted to the various types of authorship problem encountered. Problems commonly stem from (i) individuals who claim that they deserve to be authors but have been omitted; (ii) individuals who have been included as authors but without their consent; (iii) individuals who agree to be authors but who back away from responsibility if something goes wrong – such as if an issue with the integrity of the paper comes to light; and (iv) confusion over multiple authorship. There is usually very little that COPE, or member journals, can do to solve disputes between authors (this should be the responsibility of the authors’ institution(s)), but this document sets out some basic principles to help prevent common problems and seeks to stimulate discussion on some common instances of what should, and should not, constitute authorship.
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