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I have a question about plagiarism.

If a peer reviewer writes a negative review of a paper and rejects it, so that he or she can use the idea of the paper in their own work is that considered plagiarism?

Similarly, if a peer reviewer lifts sentences from a submitted, but rejected manuscript into their own paper is that considered plagiarism?

And if you have a strong suspicion either of those two have happened (e.g. you see a publication appear after a while with exactly the same phrasing as your submitted manuscript), is there anything you can do about it?

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The answer to your first two questions are easy: Yes! It is considered plagiarism to take other people's ideas and represent them as your own, without giving proper credit. The same holds for sentences in a paper, no matter if it has already been published.

Your last question is more difficult to answer, as the burden of proof essentially lies with the person being plagiarized. Since the paper have already been submitted (though rejected), there should be a date stamped version of it somewhere in the journal repository. This is, however, not the best way to go, as the supposed culprit(s) can claim that they have never seen this paper - it is, after all, not in the public domain. For this (and other) reason I would always recommend authors to submit preprints to a service like arXiv, to have a valid, time-stamped proof in the public domain.

In the concrete case I would recommend contacting the editor of the journal where the new paper has been published, if adequate proof can be gathered.

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    It should be possible to document priority with a local solution. Print a copy of the paper when you submit it and have a trusted colleague (Department head, say) sign and date the copy. Now you have a witness and an audit trail. But you have to remember to do this before the problem arises, just as you would have to have uploaded it somewhere early on. – Buffy Jul 11 '18 at 19:13
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If a peer reviewer writes a negative review of a paper and rejects it, so that he or she can use the idea of the paper in their own work is that considered plagiarism?

Similarly, if a peer reviewer lifts sentences from a submitted, but rejected manuscript into their own paper is that considered plagiarism?

It's a similar situation to a lecturer coping excerpts from student papers into their own work. It's plagiarism and a highly unethical behavior.

Contact the journal and inform them of your suspicions. Be as factual as possible. Include the excerpts you think have been plagiarised and/or your reasons to think so. You may want to discuss your suspicions with a colleague before informing the journal just as a "sanity check", to check whether your colleague also thinks the sentences / ideas are the same.

I don't know where you are but in my country there exist some organisations that focus on finding and naming-and-shaming scientists who plagiarise. So if you have a proof and the journal doesn't act, you may try to turn to a similar organisation in your country if it exists. Apart from that, you may consider contacting the plagiarist's institution and/or a lawyer.

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