We have received a number of manuscripts involving a published scale where the scale’s developer is known to comb the literature and ask those who used the scale for research to pay for a retroactive license, sometimes asking for very large sums of money.
We have started asking authors on all submissions where the scale is used to provide a copy of the license agreement with the scale’s developer. In most cases, the authors do not have the agreement and are not receiving prompt responses from the scale’s developer and his team when they contact him to ask about the license. We have had to withdraw these manuscripts from submission until authors can provide evidence to indicate that the scale’s developer has granted them a license.
In a more complicated case, we found an accepted (but not published) manuscript that used the scale. We asked the authors, after acceptance, to obtain the correct permissions (they had not done so initially). They subsequently acquired the correct license, but the scale’s developer came back with a number of comments on the paper that he was requiring the authors to make prior to publication. This included adding three of his own papers to the reference list (but not indicating where they should be cited in the text). He also added his name and contact information to a number of places in the paper, most notably in the acknowledgments section.
The scale’s license contract and copyright agreement include a number of ‘copyright requirements’ that the authors must agree to. One of these is that all manuscripts using the scale that are being considered for publication must be submitted to the developer first to check that all copyright requirements are included. We felt it would be editorially irresponsible to allow these changes to the manuscript after peer review and have had to withdraw the manuscript (the developer also indicated that he "will not allow" the authors to publish the version of the manuscript that was accepted). The authors were very understanding about withdrawing their paper as they had been having a difficult time dealing with the scale’s developer and his team.
We have another case where the authors are removing data from their manuscript relating to the published scale but adding a note to indicate why they have done this. As such, the reporting of results will be incomplete.
We disagree with the actions of the researcher and his enforcement of copyright on the tool. We are currently only publishing articles that have a license permitted by the scale’s developer because we do not want to be sued or have to retract the articles.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum
• How should we be handling cases where this scale is being used?
• Should we be taking any action relating to the developer’s conduct?
The Forum asked if the journal had sought legal advice. There are copyright and licensing issues here that need to be addressed. Who holds copyright on the scale? Is the right to use the scale also copyrighted? What are the legal claims and what is required by the license (for example, is it use of the scale, reporting of the scale, etc). Perhaps consulting with inhouse lawyers could determine if the demands of the developer are reasonable. The Forum agreed this is a very difficult issue, with no easy solution.
A suggestion was to write an editorial, highlighting this issue. It seems that there may be many journals who are experiencing similar problems. The editor might consider contacting other editors and producing a joint editorial or opinion piece, highlighting the issues around this type of behaviour and holding authors to ransom in this way, and emphasizing the fact that this is not good for the advancement of scientific knowledge or in the public interest.
Shortly before publication, I received an email from the authors of a systematic review telling me that a version of the paper as first submitted to the journal for peer review had appeared on the website of a campaign group based in the USA. It was clear that the version of the document posted on the website was the same as the version supplied to the journal's peer reviewers. Further investigation showed that one of the three peer reviewers (reviewer A) who initially advised on the paper is also named as a member of the board of directors of the campaign group. The journal operates an anonymous peer review system.
I emailed all three peer reviewers asking for an explanation as to how the confidential draft appeared on the website. Reviewers B and C replied within a few hours, disclaiming all knowledge, as I expected. Reviewer A has failed to reply. I also emailed the senior directors of the campaign group, asking them to remove the confidential draft from their website, and inviting them to replace it with the definitive paper, which had in the meantime been published. They did not reply. The directors have since been sent a letter from our publisher's lawyers asking for the confidential document to be removed—with reviewer A also sent a copy—on the grounds of breech of copyright. They have not replied. The lawyers are continuing to pursue legal avenues for getting the draft removed from the website.
In normal circumstances, I would contact reviewer A's institution and request an investigation. However, reviewer A is unaffiliated, so I cannot follow this course. On our manuscript tracking database, we have removed reviewer A's role as a peer reviewer, with a note explaining the circumstances, so that he should not be used as a peer reviewer again. I have received frequent emails from the lead author of the paper, asking for a resolution of the matter. The author has requested that I give her the name of reviewer A, so that she can ask that he is excluded from peer reviewing her papers in the future. I have declined to do this on the grounds that it would be a further breach of confidentiality.
Question for the COPE Forum Is there any more that can be done to obtain an explanation from reviewer A, or to satisfy the authors that we have investigated the matter to the limits of the journal's powers?
This case was not discussed at the Forum. Council instead gave the following advice on this case.
Council agreed that the editor had done all he could in trying to contact reviewer A and eliciting a response from him, and in attempting to have the paper removed from the website of the campaign group.
Council agreed that the emphasis should now be in dealing with the aggrieved author and in correcting the public record. The suggestion was to add a notice of concern to the paper on the website giving a clear account of the events. The editor should state the facts in a dispassionate manner: - the paper appears on the website of a campaign group with neither the authors’ nor the journal’s agreement; - this occurred during the peer review process and without the authors’ permission; - the journal has repeatedly asked for the article to be taken down.
The editor should also respond to the author telling him that he plans to make a public statement on the website and stating that he now feels that he has done all that he can to progress this case. The editor might like to list all the steps he has taken to have the article removed, detailing the times he has tried to contact the reviewer and the campaign website.
COPE would advise against releasing the names of reviewers for journals that have a confidential peer review system, even if a breach of confidentiality is suspected. COPE also suggested that editors should exercise caution when using reviewers who are not affiliated to a university.
As recommended by COPE, the editor’s posted a note on the case in the journal, presenting an account of the events.
We received a complaint of plagiarism by Dr A concerning a book that has just been published. This case is ongoing since January 2012.
Authors B and C published a new, very extended edition (+1000 pages), on a topic that previously was covered in part in an English book by author B (published in 2006). Part of this book was based on a German book published back in 1993 by Dr A and author B. The English book was taken off the market by the publisher because of alleged "plagiarism" by author B. The publisher apologized to author B for this withdrawal which seemed to have been a mistake (but there is no written documentation on this). Copyright of this book was transferred to author B. Dr A has made a complaint of plagiarism for this book too. Copyright of the German book was transferred to both authors (Dr A and author B). It is therefore unclear what exactly has been plagiarized (in the 2006 book and the revised edition).
As the publisher, we sought two independent reviews. Unfortunately, the publisher asked the authors to come up with the names of the “independent” reviews, so we are a little hesitant to rely on both reviews. However, the reviews are respected scientists, and both state that “similarity is inevitable because of the involvement from the same author (author B) and overlap in the topic treated. It is also clear that the book is not based on new material, but it brings together existing material in a presentable form, but has a different formulation form and interpretation of material”.
Authors B and C mention that they have included all appropriate quotes/references to the previous book. Dr A has received parts of the text for review, and the authors have been willing from the start to rewrite anything that comes close to the original text of Dr A, should there be any similarity.
The lawyer, hired by author B, informed all parties, based on both reviews, that this is not a case of plagiarism. Dr A in the meantime has also hired a lawyer because he is not in agreement. So far we have not heard anything from this lawyer. Dr A now requests a statement from publisher on the case.
We believe there are strong personal issues at work here. With books, there is no editor-in-chief that can investigate the case or make a decision with help of his editorial board/associate editors or other body in the form of a society.
At the moment we, as the publisher, will make the new book (of over 1000 pages) available to Dr A so that he can indicate which sections show overlap with the 1993 German book (published by him and author B) and probably the 2006 English book.
Is there any advice from the Forum on this complex case?
The Forum agreed that this is a complex copyright issue rather than an ethical issue. This may have to be resolved by lawyers. The Forum supported the editor’s actions of making the new book available to Dr A so that he can indicate which sections show overlap with the 1993 German book and the 2006 English book. It was suggested that following this, independent advice should be sought from an independent expert. It was also suggested that the editor may be able to obtain agreement in advance on the use of an independent arbitrator who would review the case and whose opinion the authors would abide by.
The editor has been informed that the complaining author is trying to ‘organize’ the community in order to ‘discredit’ the book. So far nothing has been heard from his lawyer. Dr A has not provided any detailed information of where the plagiarism has occurred despite the fact that he requested a copy of the book in order to look at the chapters and the book was sent to him for comparison with the request to send his findings to the editor.
Authors A and B submitted a paper PV1 to an international conference which was accepted by the editor E of the conference proceedings. The copyright of the paper was assigned to the publishers PC of the conference proceedings. The editor E of the conference proceedings is also the editor of an international journal J published by PJ. The editor E invited author A to consider submitting a revised and extended paper for possible publication in journal J
Author A submitted the revised paper PV2. The paper was reviewed and accepted by editor E for publication in journal J. The proof of paper PV2 was posted on the journal’s website by publisher PJ.Shortly afterwards Author C contacted Editor E claiming that he was also an author of the paper PV2 and further claimed that he should have been listed as the first author. Author C expressed his annoyance at being excluded from the authorship of the paper by contacting the Vice-Chancellors of the universities of authors A and B. Author C claimed that Authors A and B had passed off his work as their own.
Editor E invited all authors A, B and C to contact him and to provide him with any information they thought relevant.Authors A and B confirmed that Author C had worked with them as a research associate but left before the end of his contract. On looking at the information provided by the authors, the Editor E noticed an interesting discrepancy between the information provided. Author A claimed that an earlier related paper ERP had been published in another journal J2 with the authors names as A, B and C whereas Author C claimed that they were in the order C, A, B. Editor E checked the paper ERP and found that the printed version had the author names in the order A, B and C whereas the web based abstract had the authors names in the order C, A and B. Editor E contacted the publisher of journal J2 and was told that this arose because Author A had asked for the names to be reordered in the late stages of the pre-press of the paper ERP. The original order on the web based abstract had not been corrected. Editor E concluded that there had been a longstanding dispute between Author C and Authors A and B. The evidence provided by A, B and C relating to the authorship of paper PV2 appeared inconclusive to Editor E.
Editor E informed all three authors that he decided that paper PV2 should not be published in journal J until the authorship has been agreed by all three authors. He encouraged the authors to start communicating to agree on the matter. The Editor has not heard from Author C but Author A engaged a solicitor who has written formally to Editor E. The solicitor seeks to encourage Editor E to arrange publication of the paper PV2. The solicitor claims that the copyright of PV2 rests with Authors A and B forgetting that they originally assigned it to publisher PC.
The Editor has had numerous emails from Authors A and B. Their complaint is that Author C has stopped the publication of their paper. It is clear that a disaffected research collaborator could maliciously stop further publications by his erstwhile coworkers by claiming authorship of all of their future papers. On the other hand, authors who leave a research team should be given appropriate acknowledgement for their efforts. What is appropriate in this case is unclear, but Author C was not given any acknowledgment because Authors A and B did not think it appropriate.The usual advice to authors is that they should agree authorship prior to submission but in this case Authors A and B claim that Author C is not an author so that they have nothing to agree.
The Forum agreed that the editor has done all he can in this messy authorship dispute. As the institution has been unhelpful, it was suggested that what was needed was an independent arbitrator or the funding agency that could liaise between the authors and come up with a solution. The Forum did not think there was a legal case for the journal to answer, and in any case the journal should be indemnified by the publisher.
What is important here is the fact that the paper has been published, as it was published on the website. It also has a DOI number, which means that it is citable. COPE’s view is that it is wrong for a publisher to take a paper down from the website without due process (for example, a formal retraction). COPE would advise the publisher to put the paper back on the website. The Forum agreed that a notice should be attached to the paper to the effect that the paper will not be published in print until the author dispute is resolved. In the meantime, the advice was to tell the authors it is up to them to sort out the dispute and suggest they allow a third party, someone they all agree upon, to arbitrate and hopefully resolve the situation.
I am a trainer and author of books on medical writing. It was brought to my attention that a chapter in a German-language book published in Switzerland was based almost entirely on my teaching. The first author is director of a privately funded research institution and the second author a member of staff. The second author attended one of my courses. There is a general statement at the beginning of the chapter where the authors ‘refer to’ me (with a reference to one book and my website) and one other specific reference when they talk about macro and micro editing. However, there is one diagram copied from a course overhead and some original research published without reference, including a table reproduced directly from one of my books without acknowledging the source. Descriptions of several other specific concepts from my work (eg, storyboarding, 2-7-7-6) that appear in the chapter to be theirs, not mine. At one stage they write ‘We recommend’ giving a clear implication that it is theirs to recommend.
The authors did not seek permission from me or the publisher of my book. Their publisher has been contacted, and says that the work is not a piece of plagiarism but a homage, that the two references are sufficient, and that the author’s only mistake is leaving off an acknowledgment on one of the tables, which they will remedy at the next printing.
(1) Have the authors acted unethically? (2) Do I have an ethical duty to take this further, or should I just continue to enjoy my retirement?
The Forum unanimously agreed that the authors’ actions were unethical. Failure to ask permission is a form of misconduct. Some argued that it would be reasonable to sue for breach of copyright and that the author should contact his publisher and international distributor. The Forum agreed that this is a form of plagiarism but that there are degrees of plagiarism so the question arises as to how much harm has been done. The Forum reasoned that whether or not the complainant takes this matter forward by informing the plagiarists’ employers depends very much on how much he cares about protecting his intellectual property.
The publishers have now written an erratum in German that will be inserted in all remaining copies of the book. The statement says that the publisher and authors “thoroughly regret not having made it clear” that the chapter in question largely consists of a summary of book and course material. “We did in no way intend to question [the author’s] copyright and apologise to him for not having obtained the required permissions.” The author's institution has not been formally informed in the light of COPE's view that it would not be necessary to do so.
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.