A quip heard in the hallways of some philosophy departments goes like this: when someone publishes a new book, a colleague says, “Congratulations! So, what are you calling it this time around?” With every witticism, there is some level of truth; my professional discipline of philosophy has been somewhat sluggish in addressing the problem of self-plagiarism.
An editor received a query from an author: “Your guidelines are clear that presenting data at a society meeting does not preclude publication. But what if the society records the presentation, retains copyright of that recording, and posts it online? Is asking presenters to turn over copyright of a recording of data presented at a prepublication stage and disseminating the recording as they see fit crossing the "prior publication" line?”
Question(s) for the COPE Forum • Are presentation audiotapes considered prior publication? • If tapes are copyrighted, does that preclude publication?
Copyright laws are there to protect publishers and they cover only the presentation of something and not the underlying research or data. In the case of audiotapes, the organisation only owns the audio rights not the paper rights, so the editor should check the copyright that has previously been assigned. It is also possible that the audiotapes are behind a paywall for members only, so the distribution of the material might be very limited. There is a need, however, to seek legal advice in such cases and the editor should consult the legal department of the publisher if there is any question. Additionally, when a paper is presented, it is not generally presented in the same format as a scholarly paper submitted to a journal, so there might be significant differences between the audio and the written material, with the exception of the data presented. The main concern is duplicate publication; however, audiotapes are not generally considered primary sources for the purpose of reviews of the literature.
There is a similar situation with dissertations. Do poster presentations have the same copyright rules? Generally, previous presentations in the form of papers presented at a conference are allowed although there might be some text overlap with the abstract, which is usually all that is printed. In other situations, a published abstract in English might accompany an article written in another language, but with appropriate credits, a complete translation of that article might be appropriate for publication.
The parameters of prior publication are a journal decision. For example, journals can decide to publish papers arising out of a dissertation or an audit that has been circulated internally in an institution, but they should be transparent and disclose previous publication or copyright of any portion of the material. One view from the Forum was that copyright issues support paternalistic ideas of protecting people from something that has not been peer reviewed, and this might be an issue for certain disciplines. Another question journals might consider relates to their policies of issuing press releases. Some journals employ the Ingelfinger Rule and embargoes to preclude the spread of misinformation, particularly in research related to public health and safety.
The matter was resolved in the author’s favour. The association changed its policy requiring presenters to have presentations taped and to hand over copyright.
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.
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.
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.
In October 2014 it came to our attention via one of the reviewers of a manuscript submitted to our journal that an identical article (100% identical) had been previously published on the website of the author. The submitting author had not made us aware in their submission documentation that the article had been publicly available on their website at the point of submission. Two different but related issues arise from this.
Firstly, as it is the journal’s policy to conduct blind peer reviews of each submission received, it is impossible to uphold this policy where submissions already exist, as does the present one, in an identical form in the public domain. Secondly, there is an issue of self-plagiarism. In academic contexts, it is not permissible to re-use identical copy for multiple submissions, and would in all likelihood be regarded as a case of academic misconduct.
We have consulted the COPE website for advice but there does not appear to be a comparable case whereby the original identical article is in the public domain but not previously published in another journal. We are also aware of the various definitions and types of plagiarism and self-plagiarism which render the details of this case a grey area (COPE Discussion Document: How should editors respond to plagiarism http://publicationethics.org/files/Discussion%20document.pdf), and that copyright and rights of author issues may apply.
In summary, both co-editors of the journal consider that this case constitutes self-plagiarism and possibly redundant/duplicate publication according to the COPE Case Taxonomy (http://publicationethics.org/cope-case-taxonomy). The two COPE case taxonomy areas we refer to in this case are: o ‘Self-plagiarism’ (submitted article)—reusing one’s own previous writing without being transparent about this or appropriately referencing/quoting from the original” and o ‘Prior Publication’—The publication, or attempted publication, of whole or substantial parts of the work/data/analysis that have already been published, or have been submitted elsewhere, without transparency or appropriate declaration/referencing.
We have contacted the author, forwarding the two peer reviewers’ comments which both contained major revisions to the manuscript, also pointing out that we are aware of the existence of the article on the author’s website.
Question(s) for the COPE Forum We would be grateful for the Forum’s advice on:
Whether to pursue this as we would a case of self-plagiarism of a previously published journal article (ie, reject the paper) or whether it would suggest an alternative course of action(s).
The other related issue is the publication of ‘green copies’. While many journals, including our own, now encourage authors to make their own author copy available on public forums (eg, researchgate, institutional fora), such publication would normally take place after the publication of an article in a journal and not before. It is our concern that better policies need to be developed around prior publication.
The Forum advised that it is up to the editor and the journal to decide what they regard as prior publication. Journals should provide guidance on their website, detailing what they do and do not consider prior publication. Many journals provide lists of what they consider prior publication, and these lists vary greatly from journal to journal, and between different disciplines.
It is crucial that every journal discusses this at the editorial level and decide what they consider to be prior publication and then puts this information on their website and on the online submission system. There is no general guidance on what is considered prior publication—it has to be an individual journal decision. In some areas prepublication posting is encouraged, and may be required eg for clinical trials. This is a rapidly changing area and journals should be prepared to modify their policies over time, with the increasing number of prior publication options becoming available (eg, blogs, preprint servers). This does raise issues in relation to blind peer review.
Regarding the present case, if the journal has not been explicit about what it considers prior publication, it may be difficult to accuse the author of self-plagiarism or duplicate publication. The author may reasonably state that he was unaware of the journal policy. Some members of the Forum noted that they would normally allow this form of prior publication but there should be a link to the previous version, and the author should have made the journal aware of the previous publication.
Other members of the Forum stated that they would definitely consider this prior publication, and would reject the paper.
So the editors needs to decide for themselves what they consider to be appropriate for their journal and their discipline.
There is an initiative called CrossMark, available for publishers, which provides a “version of record”, making it very clear which is the published version with linking to any other versions.
The editorial decision was to reject the manuscript in its current form, but offering the author the option of resubmitting the article following a substantial and complete reworking of the manuscript to include all of the feedback from the reviewers. The editors confirmed that they would require every one of the reviewers’ suggestions to be addressed in any resubmission, and that they did not guarantee acceptance of the resubmitted manuscript, which would be subject to further review by the same reviewers as previously. To date the journal has not received a reworked new version of the manuscript.
A reviewer of our journal noticed similarity between a published paper (P1) and a manuscript under review (P2). At the same time, a member of the editorial team noticed similarity between another accepted manuscript for publication (P3) and both paper P1 and manuscript P2. All three papers were submitted by the same authors based on the same trial, reporting three different endpoints measuring the same effect. The earlier paper P1 reported the results on the most accepted and validated efficacy measures. The latter manuscripts reiterated the findings of the published paper but did not cite the same.
The editor-in-chief decided to hold P2 and P3 and follow the COPE guidelines. The editorial team asked clarifications from the authors, who in reply stated their ignorance about publication practices and argued that the two other efficacy measures will substantiate the results of P1. The results of the papers were contradictory to current practices and hence the editorial team decided to be lenient with the authors. The editors suggested combining the two manuscripts under review (P2 and P3) into one short communication and asked the authors for appropriate modifications (eg, reporting ancillary data).
The authors modified the manuscript but quoted a guideline for analysis, which had not used before, was not present when the authors completed their study and was not related to the topic. This raised questions about the overall integrity and reliability of the authors. The editorial team decided to hold the manuscript and refer to the COPE Forum for consultation.
Questions for the COPE Forum (1) What should be the stand of the editorial board, especially if authors want to withdraw the paper? (2) Should the editors share the review information with editors of other related journals? (3) Should we disclose the names of the authors to other journal editors in the sector? (4) Should we have an alert list of such authors?
The Forum agreed that even if the authors wish to withdraw the paper, and they have every right to do so, this does not mean that the issue is gone away or is resolved. If the editor has concerns, he/she retains the right to follow-up with the author and/or the institution. The editor can still contact the author’s institution and ask them to investigate. COPE always advises that even if a paper is rejected or withdrawn, the editor has a duty to follow-up any issues relating to suspected misconduct. The editor may like to explain this to the authors.
It may be necessary to share the information with related journals, but the editor may need to assess the scale of the problem first by doing a search for other articles by the same authors and determining what other journals are involved.
Regarding an alert list, COPE always advises against blacklisting authors or sharing alert lists with other editors because of the risk of litigation and the danger of harming other innocent associated authors.
The editor asked the authors for clarification, but did not get a reply even after several reminders. The editor also contacted the author’s institution and asked them to investigate the case but received no reply. The article was rejected on the grounds of compromised publication ethics.
The case was discussed by the editorial team members. The journal has improved the editorial review methods of the journal to filter out possible cases of plagiarism and salami slicing. The editor discussed the case (without revealing any of the author's details) with editors of related journals who said that they also experienced similar cases and expressed the need for efforts to create awareness to avoid publication misconduct. The editor acknowledges the guidance from the COPE website in strengthening the journal's editorial processes.
A manuscript was submitted to our journal and, on running a routine CrossCheck report, we found that it contained a 68% match (over 5000 words) to a report from a funded project by the authors that had recently been published online. Because the similarity match was so high, we rejected the manuscript.
The author is now contesting the rejection, arguing that the funded project had demanded the full copy of the submitted manuscript as part of a mandatory annual report to maintain the funding, and published the full report on their website without his approval.
Are we wrong to consider this previous publication?
Several members commented that publication of a PhD thesis, for example, would not prevent publication of a journal article, provided there was full acknowledgement in both sources and permission had been sought from the university. Most agreed that this is a similar situation. It is not the same as publication in another journal. But the Forum agreed that the editor’s decision does depend on journal policy. Does the journal allow pre-print publication (ie posting of non-peer-reviewed findings) or are these considered ‘prior publication’ (journals vary on their policies on this)? Whatever the policy, the editor should also ensure there are no copyright issues. Otherwise, all agreed that the paper could be published. There are no overriding ethical issues as long as the dual publication is transparent and cross referenced. A suggestion was to contact the funding body and discuss a policy for future reference, perhaps agreeing to simultaneous publication.