A common issue encountered by editors is overlap of text with an author’s own previously published work, particularly with the increasing use of plagiarism detection software. This practice is known as ‘text recycling’ (also sometimes referred to as ‘self-plagiarism’). Opinions on the acceptability of text recycling vary greatly and it can be a challenge for editors to know how to deal with it once it has been identified.
Research higher degree theses have traditionally been seen as part of the scholarly communications chain, and have been made available by university libraries in print and, latterly, online via institutional repositories.
What to do if you suspect redundant (duplicate) publication in a published manuscript.
The instructions to authors should state the journal’s policy on redundant publication.
Asking authors to sign a statement or tick a box may be helpful in subsequent investigations.
ICMJE advises that translations are acceptable but MUST reference the original. Editors may consider publishing a correction (i.e. the link to the original article) rather than a retraction/notice of duplicate publication in such cases.
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An author submitted work to our journal (journal A) which, after two rounds of peer review, was accepted and published. One week after it was published, the editors of journal B contacted our journal stating that this work, with the exact same title, authors and content, had been submitted to journal B and, after receiving an acceptance letter, the author withdrew the paper, informing them that it had been accepted by a different journal.
When the editor of journal B asked the author for an explanation, the author did not provide a satisfactory response. Journal B, in consultation with their editorial board, banned the author from submitting to the journal in the future.
Editor B contacted us, alerting us to the situation. After verifying the submission records, we concluded that the submission to both journals had been done on the same day. We contacted the authors for an explanation. The author replied that indeed he had submitted to two journals but that the submissions were several weeks apart. He said he forgot to withdraw the article from journal B and apologized for the situation. However, the submission records for both journal A and journal B indicate that this statement is not true.
We have discussed with the editor of journal B what action should be taken in relation to the author. Journal B has already banned the author. The editorial board of journal B would like to make this misconduct known to the author´s institution and suggests that it should be us who contact the institution. We are reluctant to contact the institution as the author has apologized, admitted his mistake and withdrew the article from journal B. We believe journal B should contact the institution.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum • What is the appropriate action in such a case. Should the institution be informed or is banning the author from both journals for a period of time enough? • Who should initiate the action—journal A or journal B? • Both editors agree that something should be done so that the author does not repeat the behaviour at other journals, but are unsure of what to do.
The Forum advised that in deciding whether to inform the institution, the editor may want to take into consideration the seniority of the author and the country of origin of the author. If the author is from a country where ethical norms are not well entrenched, the editor may wish to be more lenient. COPE would always advocate educational rather than punitive action. Even if the editor feels that the author deliberately tried to deceive, COPE would still recommend an educational approach in the first instance. If the author demonstrates a repeat pattern of misconduct, then the editor might consider contacting the institution.
However, while contacting the institution for punitive reasons is not necessarily helpful some argued informing the institution may be preventative rather than punitive, especially if the authors are junior researchers. The institution has a role in mentoring the author and to ensure that this type of behaviour does not persist. This may also serve to convey to the author the seriousness of the infraction.
A suggestion was to write an editorial on the issue of dual submission. Do authors really understand what it means, and the consequences of declaring that their paper has not been submitted to another journal?
COPE does not recommend banning authors because of the legal repercussions.
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.
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.
A case report was received at the journal. A covering letter was supplied by the two authors stating “Our work has not been published elsewhere and we have been actively involved in the preparation of the paper. No conflict of interest. Not published elsewhere. Patient consent obtained for case report and images to be published”.
Originality is very highly graded in the referee’s marking sheets for case reports, so the editor entered the title of the manuscript into Google, prior to sending out to referees. An exact match for the manuscript, including identical images, was found in an internet only pay per publish journal.
The editor contacted the corresponding author to inform him that the journal was rejecting the article as it had already been published. The author asked if the article would be considered if the publication was withdrawn from the internet journal. The editor replied that it would not. The matter was discussed at the journal editorial board meeting and a decision taken to refer the issue to COPE.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum • Has the journal handled the case correctly? • Are there other actions the editor should take?
The Forum agreed that the journal had handled the case correctly and no further action is needed. The editor was correct in rejecting the paper and not considering publication if the article was withdrawn from the internet journal. The authors should be told that internet only journals are the same as printed journals, and hence the paper is considered published. The editor could consider alerting the author’s institution.
The editor thanked the Forum for their comments and considers the case closed.
Our journal recently approved a commentary article for publication, after the manuscript had been substantially revised during the editorial process. In the course of preparing the text for the article proof, the copy editor discovered that the authors had published the revised manuscript on an external public website, just prior to receiving notification from our system of our formal acceptance for publication. Although formally accepted, the article has not yet be been published (neither online nor in print).
In our journal, authors are required, at the time of submission of a manuscript, to confirm that the manuscript has not previously been published in other media, that they consent to giving our journal exclusive rights to represent, duplicate and publish the manuscript, and that written consent for subsequent use of the manuscript must be obtained from the Journal.
Immediately after submission of a manuscript, all authors receive a confirmation email in which we repeat that the content/manuscript must not be discussed in any form of media until the manuscript is published by the journal, without a specific exception from us. This message is repeated in several subsequent communications, including at the time of acceptance for publication.
The timing of the publication of this manuscript on an external website falls at an unusual intersection between submission of a revised manuscript, acceptance of a final version of the manuscript and publication of the final manuscript. We judge the situation as somewhat different from the COPE flowcharts for redundant publication. We have informed the authors that we have postponed publication until we receive the COPE Forum's recommendation. In the meantime, we have asked the authors to remove the content of the manuscript from the external website.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum • Is it acceptable to permanently withhold publication of this otherwise accepted manuscript?
The editor updated the Forum that the author has now removed the manuscript from the external public website, stating that it was a technical error.
The Forum suggested that this case highlights the lack of knowledge of some authors with regard to the consequences of posting on blogs, websites, etc, and that education is needed around these issues to reinforce the message that this constitutes publishing.
The Forum noted that this was not redundant publication but could have been a breach of copyright, if the paper had not been taken down from the website. With so many publishing models available, is it conceivable that the authors were confused? Editors should ensure their journal policies on permissible duplicate publication are up to date. For some journals, publication of manuscripts on preprint servers, for example, is permissible, but this should be clearly indicated on the journal website. In the present case, the journal does not have an open access policy and at the time of submission the journal assumes copyright of the article.
The Forum agreed that the authors were in the wrong here, but the right thing to do now is for the journal to publish the paper. If the editor feels she would like to do more, she could consider contacting the authors’ institution as a way of educating the authors and providing a gentle reminder of the appropriate behaviour in such instances, and the contract and copyright issues involved when authors submit a paper for publication.
The authors were understanding of the journal's concerns and removed the content from the external website. The journal proceeded to publish the manuscript.
An author submitted a redundant publication to one of our journals. After reviewing the report from the anti-plagiarism software, we followed the COPE flowchart up to and including contacting the author's institution. We have not received a response from the author or the author's institution. Shortly afterwards, the same author submitted a (different) redundant publication to one of our other journals. We followed the same steps and have not received a response.
The institution listed in the author's submission form is not an academic one. We cannot find the author on the staff list and the only email address the author has provided is a Gmail account.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum • What additional steps can/should we should take if the author/institution is unresponsive?
The editor provided additional information to the Forum that the two submissions contained plagiarised material and were replications of two already published articles. The editor has written to the author and the institution but has received no response.
In such cases the Forum would normally advise approaching a higher authority than the institution if that is possible. Is there a professional body that the author belongs to or a funder that could be contacted? In the UK, for example, you might contact the General Medical Council (GMC) if the author was a registered doctor.
However, the Forum acknowledged that there is only so much the editor can do, and it may be the case that the editor has to accept that there is nothing more he can do. The Forum advised making all the journal editors aware of this person in case future submissions are received but advised against blacklisting, especially if the true identity of the author is in doubt.
The editor attempted to contact the author/institution again but to no avail. Both papers were rejected (and the journal’s concerns about the high level of textual overlap were included in that letter, following COPE sample letters). The journal considers the case closed.
The editor of journal A was alerted to the fact that an article published in journal A had been previously published in journal B and constituted a duplicate publication. The editor contacted the authors who explained that they had tried to withdraw the article from journal B but their request was ignored and the article was published against their wishes.
The authors contacted journal B with a request to retract the article. Journal B removed the article from its website but did not publish a retraction notice or any explanation as to why the article had been removed. The article published in journal B was not indexed in any indexing services, but the title can still be found by a search in Google Scholar.
The editor of journal A wonders if they need to alert the readership to the fact that a reference to the same article in journal B can be found. They feel that retraction of the article from journal A is not the correct course of action in this case because the article is scientifically sound, and currently only the version published in journal A is available. However, readers may still be misled by references to journal B that can be found on the internet.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum • Should journal A publish an ‘Expression of concern’ to highlight the duplicate publication in the past. However, the article in journal B is no longer available. Perhaps a comment in the comments system of journal A would suffice?
COPE does not seem to have clear guidelines in one place on how and when to use Expressions of concern (although we appreciate they are referred to in various Cases and in the Retraction Guidelines). It is also not clear whether they should be used as temporary notes or permanent publications (or can be both?). Different publishers use them on a case-by-case basis in an inconsistent way. PubMed recognizes an Expression of concern as a type of comment. We thought that it may be useful to discuss Expressions of concern in one of the future COPE discussion Forums to gather opinions from different publishers with a view to develop a more detailed set of guidelines for editors.
The Forum discussed issues relating to punishing the author and correcting the literature. Retractions or corrections should only be used to correct the literature—not for “punishment” In the first instance a notice needs to go on the article in journal A, which could be an expression of concern. Under normal circumstances, the article in journal B should be the one that remains, but the article is currently only available in journal A. Hence the only way of having transparency around this case is for a formal note to be added to journal A. It is essential that the formal note is a form that can be indexed and is citable. It could be an addendum, if that is linked to the article or an expression of concern.
The Forum also noted that the authors should be made aware that simultaneous submissions then withdrawing an article from one journal because you wish to publish it in another journal is not acceptable behaviour, if that is what happened in this case.
COPE agreed to consider the topic of expressions of concern for a Forum discussion.
The editor of journal A followed COPE advice and published a permanent notice in journal A (an expression of concern that is indexed and citable) explaining the duplicate publication that was removed from journal B and linking the note to the original publication in journal A. The editor considers the case now closed.