Back

I got plagiarised - What next?

In case you found one of your research papers has been (partly or entirely) copied and republished under a different name and you are looking for advice on how to respond to this, then this post is for you!

This week I was searching the web for some new references on using the European Qualification Framework (EQF) as a tool for instructional design. With colleagues I published on the topic myself and I was interested whether there are new publications or if we have missed important research. Since it is not an overly hot topic, there is not much around and I was surprised to find a paper I didn't know yet. So I went and fetched it from the web. While flipping through the pages, I was surprised to find one of my grafics without reference and then saw another figure that has been used in the same article, so I went and actually read the paper finding that most of it sounds strangely familiar. After double checking with the original paper, I found that most of the paper including all figures and references were directly copied from the original article. I know that there are integrity guidelines but when I googled, I did find not a single reference on how to deal with plagiarism as the owner of the work. While there is a lot about how teachers should guide their students in case of plagiarism or what kinds of plagiarism exist, but nothing about how to get in touch with a journal that republished one's work under a different name.

The foundations

Plagiarism comes in many forms. It starts with the uncredited adoption of ideas and ends with crude copy and paste editing. Taking figures and diagrams with or without reference is a no-go unless you got the (written) confirmation of the author and possibly the publisher of the related original work. If you find one of your diagrams or figures without credits in a research paper that you were not aware off, you are dealing with not only plagiarism but also with a copyright infringement. The same is true if an article repurposes an entire section that has been written by you. It is important that in both cases giving credit won't be sufficient.

The "softer" forms of plagiarism are a little bit more complicated, particularly if only small parts were adopted without reference and it is even harder if the other source paraphrases your ideas. In this case, the use of the same references as you did might be on your side. But in these cases it is important that you are very certain that you are indeed looking at a plagiat.

In anycase, plagiarism is considered as intellectual theft.

Journals typically impose a strict regime on plagiarism. A published plagiat will be retracted from the journal. In print journals, a visible note in the next issue will be included, in online journals the actual paper should be removed, while the title and authors stay in the index with a "retracted" marker in order to mark the incident in the case others cited the work already. In my case I found that the paper has been removed from the journal entirely without trace. In all cases, the editor should inform the authors and their institution on the incident and in severe cases the authors should be banned from future publications in the journal. If the authors of the original work are aware of the plagiarism, it is ehtically OK to brandmark the plagiarists within their community's conference committees and journal boards. Of course this practice depends on how severe the plagiat has actually been and it is up to the original authors whether or not they opt for such draconic practices.

What to do in case somebody else plagiarised your work?

The problem with the foundations is that there is no guideline in the case that you find that your work has been plagiarised.

In my case, I was looking at a near copy of a journal paper that we published in 2013. The shortened copy has been published in 2014 under different names with a small difference of an additional paragraph on the research context. Everything else, including the abstract, figures, references and an undetected typo were exactly as in the original paper. Even the title was almost unaltered. The "authors" did make the effort to remove the citations from the text, because otherwise it would have been visible that not everything in the references has been actually cited in their shortend version. This means that I was looking at a severe case of plagiarism and at a copyright infringement.

I contacted the editorial board of the respective journal and informed them on the problem. Following these rules:

  • be polite
  • indicate the relation to the original work
  • don't make accusations towards the editor
  • define the kind of plagiarism you have detected (by pointing to the inflicting passages, if this is needed)
  • provide evidence for the plagiarism, ideally by providing a reference to the original work.
  • in case of copyright infringement, include an appropriate statement.
  • ask to take the appropriate measures (but leave it to them what these are)

I made these rules up myself but I followed the research integrity guidelines of the ETH Z├╝rich.

This is what I wrote.

Dear Madam or Sir Today, 

I came across the following article that has been published 2014 in your journal (http://link.to.journal.article.com)

I kindly inform you that this paper is almost entirely a plain copy of the contents of a paper published in the IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies under the DOI (DOI of the original work, direct link to the work).

The plagiarised content includes the title, content, figures, and the references, of which the numbering has not been altered. The "original" case study the article claims to report on is not included in the paper.

Please, take the appropriate steps.

Yours sincerely,
Christian Glahn

This is what I received as a response.

Dear Christian Glahn,

Thank you for bringing to our notice regarding the serious breach of Intellectual Property (IP). We are immediately removing the full paper from the digital library of (JOURNAL NAME) pending further investigation. The full paper can no longer be downloaded from the (JOURNAL ONLINE REPOSITORY). A letter will be dispatched to the concerned authors for an explanation.

Please note, we are considering this issue as a serious CASE OF PLAGIARISM of an intellectual property and will proceed with the actions whichever deemed necessary.

Let us know if you have any inquiry.

Regards,
Editorial Support Team

The paper indeed disappeared, but not entirely according to what I found regarding handling plagiarism in published work, but then I guess that there is more than one way of handling these incidents.