In October 2005, our journal commissioned a review on a specific topic from an expert in that field. The commission was accepted, and a submission date set. This was followed up and renegotiated several times over the coming months. A first draft was received in January 2007, and assessed inhouse for feedback to the authors. Some suggestions were made regarding structure and content, and the manuscript was officially submitted in August 2007. As considerable time had elapsed since the original commission, a check was made to ensure that the review was still timely. A publication was noticed in May 2006 by the author, in another journal, with the same co-author on both. This was further found to have a near-identical abstract, and a copy was then requested. When received, a side-by-side comparison found the manuscripts to be approximately 90% the same, with entire sections duplicated. Differences comprised slightly poorer language usage in the recent submission, some single sentence updates, one extra paragraph in one section and some changes to the conclusions. Some sections from the published review had been deleted to fit our shorter word limits. No reference to the earlier publication had been made at any stage. A retrospective check showed that the first draft had been even more similar to the published version.
Both authors were contacted to explain:
- why a near-identical manuscript had been submitted;
- how this situation had happened, given the timeline and date of original commission.
In reply, the authors stated that the organisation of the manuscripts was different and similarities inevitable. They stated that they had hoped for reviewer feedback on how to change the structure and wording. They asked to have a revised manuscript reconsidered.
Does this constitute an attempt at dual publication? If so, what further action should we take?
The Forum agreed that this was an attempt at duplicate publication. The authors should be contacted and told that their behaviour was unacceptable. It should be explained to them that if the editor had published the review, copyright may have been infringed as essentially the same article would have been published in another journal, thereby putting the journal in a very difficult position. Some suggested that in the future, the commissioning letter should state that there should be no significant overlap of information between any two papers, and perhaps this should also be added to the instructions to authors. There was disagreement as to whether the first journal should be contacted, with some arguing that it should, while others suggested that as this was an attempt and not a breach of ethics it was not necessary to inform them.
Further to the discussion at COPE, we checked the copyright on the initial publication, and found that copyright would indeed have been breached had we published our manuscript. The authors were contacted to be advised that we would not be considering the manuscript further, that they would have been in breach of copyright had we proceeded, and quoting from our original commissioning letter, which flagged the unacceptable nature of copying sentences and paragraphs from published papers whether the authors own or by others. We then heard back from the authors stating they understood our position and thanking us. We also decided not to contact the journal in which the article had been published.
This is regarding a case of suspected plagiarism in our journal. I as editor have received a manuscript which was published by me in our January 2006 issue and on subsequent follow up after availability of plagiarism detection software the manuscript - a review article - seems to have a lot of similarities to another article written in a website and though the language is not the same -the flow of the article and the subheadings and the text is too similar.It was pointed out to me by my associate editor.There have been no complains yet but does that mean one should not investigate?Is the editor entitled to conduct investigations without complaints.Can plagiarism detection software be applied retrospectively?What action can be taken if only ideas are copied in the same sequence though the article is not copied verbatim.The photographs seem to be same but captions different.Should this be investigated further?How?
The committee agreed that plagiarism detection software can be applied retrospectively. Even if the editor has not received a complaint, plagiarism is serious misconduct and should be investigated. The fact that the illustrations were the same could raise issues of copyright. The advice was to contact the author in the first instance, requesting an explanation. The letter should set out the case but not make any allegations. The author should be given a time limit in which to respond. If no reply or an unsatisfactory reply is received, the editor should inform the author that he will contact the author’s registration body. If the editor decides to contact the author’s registration body, he should include the two papers, express his concerns and request an investigation. If plagiarism is proved, the editor can then decide to retract the paper. Other advice was to inform the website of the situation to determine if there has been a breach of copyright.
In 2003, Journal A published an original article. In 2006, the editor received a complaint of plagiarism relating to a case report published by Journal B in 2000.
The introduction of both articles had one identical paragraph and some paragraphs in the discussion were similar.
The article published by Journal A did not reference Journal B, despite: (a) being easy to find on a simple literature search; (b) having similar paragraphs; and (c) being on the same rather unique topic.
Journal A does not see this as an issue of scientific fraud but is concerned as to whether there is copyright infringement and about the publishing ethics involved. They would value COPE’s opinion on how best to handle this issue.
The committee did not discuss this case due to time limits, but the COPE chairman offered this personal advice.
COPE views plagiarism very seriously. Given that there seems to be only extracts involved, the suspicion must be that the author has "cut and pasted" material without attribution. The editor is advised to write to the author pointing out that to appropriate the words of others without making it clear that they are a quotation, represents intellectual theft. Moreover, it might also be breach of copyright. If the author is a young researcher or his or her first language is not English, then a gentle warning and advice on how to cite (ie, quotation marks and/or reference to the original article) should suffice. Of a senior or experienced researcher, some COPE members take the view that the author’s institution should be informed and that the second journal should publish a corrigendum.
As to copyright, this is rarely enforced so it need not be an issue in this case.
The editor contacted the author in question and notified him about the complaint and of the journal’s conclusions. The author has responded in a satisfactory way and the journal is considering whether or not to take any further action.
Further update The editor contacted the author who plagiarised the article and the author responded. The author said that he was not personally aware of the previous article and of the plagiarism in the two paragraphs, but being the first author, he took full responsibility for it. He agreed that the previous article should have been referenced by them and asked to convey his apologies to the author of the previous article. Our editor-in-chief is now dealing with this matter. He will probably publish the letter or an apology and he is considering writing an editorial on good publication practices.
Update (May 2007) The journal has drafted an editorial on this matter, which has been approved by the publisher and so should appear in the next available issue of the journal. The editor is considering whether or not to publish the letters of complaints that have been received, the journals correspondence to the “offending” author and his response. This is being discussed with the publisher in terms of legal implication. The editor considers the case now closed.
Paper A appeared in a foreign language journal, together with an English abstract. Paper B was submitted to us, and one of our referees alerted us to the similar content.
Closer inspection, including retrieval of the original foreign language manuscript and review by a deputy editor with a working knowledge of that language, and inspection of the tables by the editor and another editor, indicated that the two papers contained largely identical data and had a similar content. The foreign language version included slightly more detail on the research setting, methods, and results compared with the English version, while in the English version there were some additional analyses and minor changes in the title and organisation of the content. Despite these differences, the text of the two versions was similar and the main messages and conclusions were the same.
On submission to us, paper B did not make reference to, acknowledge, or cite the previous foreign language publication. The covering letter to the journal stated: “Please note that neither the entire paper nor any part of its content has been published or accepted by another journal. The paper is not being submitted to any other journal”. When asked to supply the earlier paper, the authors included a covering note pointing to some differences (which we believe to be minor) and acknowledged “the possibility of an overlap between the foreign language paper and the submitted manuscript”.
We believe that parallel publication is quite common and acceptable when the purpose is to disseminate data from a foreign language-only paper more widely, but wonder whether the authors should have been more forthcoming or accurate in their citations and covering letter.
We would be grateful if COPE could advise us on the correct course of action in this case, and also provide more general guidance about the acceptability of publishing similar material in multiple languages.
The committee agreed that it was entirely acceptable to publish a paper in a foreign language journal and then in an English journal provided the first paper is cited in the second journal, and it is made clear to the editor at submission. Both journals should give consent as the first journal has copyright. Although in the case of this particular journal there was no explicit advice on this subject in the instructions to authors, it was felt that this advice is freely available and widely acknowledged.
The committee felt that the authors had deliberately misled the editor. One piece of advice was to write a strongly worded letter to the authors saying that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. Some members of the committee thought that stronger action was required to reflect the seriousness of the matter, and that the authors’ institutions should be informed.
It was suggested that the instructions to authors of the journal should be updated to explicitly state that this type of behaviour is unacceptable. The could be further highlighted in an accompanying editorial.