Publication ethics and the problem of plagiarism

Plagiarism in its most basic terms is the act of copying the works of others and passing them off as your own. This violates the author’s right to the ownership of the work, which is a fundamental moral right. In academic circles plagiarism is considered to be unethical behavior and the perpetrators may be subject to sanctions, including expulsion from their institution.

In the publishing industry, plagiarism is not necessarily a crime, but it is serious unethical behavior when portions of another author’s work are included in a different work with no indication at all of their origin, and when the plagiarized text is not placed between quotation marks, or the original source of the text is not cited. Thanks to the wide use of computers and the Internet, it is very easy these days to appropriate passages from the works of other authors (cut & paste ), be it in the Sciences or in other areas such as journalism, the writing up of projects, work undertaken by students, reports, etc.

The detection of plagiarism in academic works which have been sent for publication is a critical activity in the editorial process. Thanks also to the wide use of computers, databases, the Internet, and appropriate software, it is possible to have tools at one’s disposal to detect plagiarism.

iThenticatePlagiarism appears under various guises, and some are more common than others. There are computer applications in existence which allow the detection of possibly plagiarized passages by automatic or semi-automatic means. Some of these programs are available commercially and others are open source. According to a recent report issued by the company ¡Thenticate which produces one of the most widely used commercial plagiarism detection programs in the publishing industry – used by The World Health Organization, The United Nations and the World Bank amongst others – the 10 most common types of plagiarism and bad practices are those which appear in the table below.

The table arranges the 10 types of plagiarism and bad practices in descending order of occurrence. The column marked Degree indicates the seriousness of the plagiarism, with values from 0 to 10 (maximum).







Paraphrase Expressing the same ideas in other words, which can even be a complete rewrite, maintaining the same ideas.



Repeat research results Repeating the data using the same methodology and obtaining similar results, without referring to the previous work.



Secondary sources Using secondary sources as a meta-analysis but only citing primary sources.



Duplication Using works and data from previous studies.



Verbatim Copying someone else’s text without highlighting it (quotation marks, italics, paragraph indent, etc.) and without citing the reference.



Unethical collaboration Researchers that work together but not state this yet cite each other (scratch each other’s backs).



Misleading attribution Not indicating all of the authors that participated in the paper, denying credit to contributors.



Replication Sending the work to many publications, resulting in it being published more than once.



Invalid source The reference does not exist, is not correct, or the information is not complete.



Complete Copying the entire paper and sending it out under one’s own name.


The complete report can be accessed at: <>

There are various institutions in existence with links to scholarly publishing which have published documents concerning both publication ethics and good publishing practices with particular emphasis on the problems of plagiarism. One of these institutions which we particularly want to highlight is the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) <>, which has published the following very important document: Guidelines for retracting articles: <>  (English language version) <>  (Spanish language version).

This document is very interesting because it presents a flow chart showing the decision making sequence which must be adhered to in the following cases where plagiarism is suspected.

  • What to do in the case that a publication is suspected redundant or a duplicate.
  • What to do in the case that plagiarism is suspected in the manuscript.
  • What to do in the case that made-up data is suspected.
  • Changes in authorship
    • (a) The author requests to add the name of an additional author prior to publication.
    • (b) The author requests that one of the authors be removed prior to publication.
    • (c) A request to add an additional author after publication.
    • (d) A request to remove an author after publication.
  • What to do in the case that the existence of anonymous or invited authors, or where authorship has been gifted, is suspected.
  • How to detect problems in authorship.
  • What to do in the case that the reviewer suspects that there is a conflict of interest not revealed in the submitted manuscript.
  • What to do in the case that a reader suspects that there is conflict of interest in a published article.
  • What to do in the case that it is suspected that there is an ethical issue in the submitted manuscript.
  • What to do in the case that it is suspected that a reviewer has appropriated the ideas or data of an author.
  • The management of claims against publishers by the (COPE).

Lastly, it is also worth mentioning that there is a more complex problem, that of figuring out what  self-plagiarism (recycling) is, where significant portions of one’s own works, identical or nearly identical to the original, are included in a new work without reference being made to the earlier work. Self-plagiarism is not a copyright violation but may be considered an ethical problem. This is common when an article is published as “salami slicing”. Up until two years ago, academic journals were accepting submissions in which new text represented 50% of the content, but currently the majority of publishers require that new material should represent at least 80% of the content. These situations are treated with differing criteria by the different professional associations and areas of research, from Administration and Economics to Medical and Biological Science.


I wish to thank Dr. Tomás Baiget, Director of “El profesional de la información” (EPI) <> for sharing various references to documents with me that were used to write this post.

Ernesto SpinakAbout Ernesto Spinak

Collaborator on the SciELO program, a Systems Engineer with a Bachelor’s degree in Library Science, and a Diploma of Advanced Studies from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Barcelona, Spain) and a Master’s in “Sociedad de la Información” (Information Society) from the same university. Currently has a consulting company that provides services in information projects  to 14 government institutions and universities in Uruguay.


Translated from the original in Spanish by Nicholas Cop Consulting.


Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

SPINAK, E. Publication ethics and the problem of plagiarism [online]. SciELO in Perspective, 2013 [viewed ]. Available from:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation