Duplicity, or the Dangers of Duplicate e-Publication

The senior author of a paper has posted its entire contents, including additional data that do not appear in the version sent to your publication, on his academic department’s Web site. The author did not mention this online version to the journal editors. He has already signed the publisher’s copyright transfer form. Is this a problem? How do you proceed?

The Internet has opened many new doors for the dissemination of scientific information, but it has also created new dilemmas. Just because it’s easy to post or send information to more than one place does not mean that this practice is acceptable.

As noted in the AMA Manual of Style, duplicate publication is the simultaneous or subsequent reporting of essentially the same information, article, or major components of an article 2 or more times in 1 or more forms of media (either print or electronic format) (see 5.3, Duplicate Publication).1(p148)

JAMA’s Instructions for Authors notes that submissions are considered with the understanding that they have not been published previously in print or electronic format and are not under consideration by another publication or electronic medium.2 Copies of related or possibly duplicative materials (ie, those containing substantially similar content or using the same or similar data) that have been previously published or are under consideration elsewhere must be provided at the time of manuscript submission.

According to the recommendations of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), publication of complete manuscripts in proceedings of meetings in print or online may preclude consideration for publication in a primary-source journal.3

Thus, the answer to the first question above is yes, this is a problem. Duplicate submission/publication is an offense to the author–journal relationship and an affront to the ethical reporting of biomedical research. In addition, if the author has transferred copyright or a license to publish the manuscript to the journal, he/she also could violate copyright law. The type of Web site that has posted the article is not relevant; whether it’s another journal, an institutional site, or even a blog, online posting is publication.

To resolve the situation, it is important to know where in the publication process that manuscript is and to have a frank conversation with the corresponding author. One of the simplest options is for the journal to insist on the immediate removal of the content on the academic department’s Web site. Another approach is for the journal to reject the paper on the basis of previous publication, provided it has not published the manuscript already. In the worst-case scenario, the author refuses to take the paper off the Web site and the journal has already published it as well. This could lead to a notice of duplicate publication, consultation with the senior author’s institutional supervisor, and/or banning the author from publishing in that journal for a specified time.

After publication, some journals permit authors to post a copy of the published article (eg, a PDF) on their academic department or institutional Web site or establish toll-free links from these Web sites to the author’s article on the journal’s Web site. This is an acceptable form of secondary publication (see 5.3.1, Secondary Publication).

Extensive discussion of various examples and consequences of duplicate submission/publication appear in the AMA Manual of Style1 and the ICMJE guidelines.3 The new wrinkle is the ease (and speed) with which researchers can post information online. It may be easy to forget that the Internet, while seemingly ethereal, is a publication venue all the same.—Stacy L. Christiansen, MA

1. Iverson C, Christiansen S, Flanagin A, et al. The AMA Manual of Style: A Guide for Authors and Editors. 10th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2007.

2. JAMA Instructions for Authors: Duplicate/Previous Publication or Submission. http://jama.ama-assn.org/site/misc/ifora.xhtml#DuplicatePreviousPublicationorSubmission. Updated March 15, 2011. Accessed April 13, 2011.

3. Uniform Requirements for Manuscripts Submitted to Biomedical Journals: Publishing and Editorial Issues Related to Publication in Biomedical Journals—Overlapping Publications. ICMJE Web site. http://www.icmje.org/publishing_4overlap.html. Updated 2009. Accessed April 13, 2011.