While reading a series of blog posts on a sub-field in TCS (theoretical CS), I came across a paper recently published by a group of students/faculty that has literally copy-pasted large sections of a blog post, and made it into a journal paper thats available online. My question(s) are about what I should do about it:

  1. Do I point it out to the author of the blog, and leave it to him about how to handle the issue?

  2. Contact the journal in question - but since its not my work, I'm hesitant that whether I have a case

  3. Leave it alone, finish reading the blog posts, and add the journal to my private list of journals to completely ignore?

The third option is most hassle-free for me, but I wondered if it'd be ethical to know about plagiarism and not point it out!

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    @Suresh: Isn't this your blog? – Anonymous Mathematician Aug 19 '13 at 19:57
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    Nice catch! If I were the author I would probably want to know. – Bitwise Aug 19 '13 at 20:45
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    Do I point it out to the author of the blog...? — I think you just did. – JeffE Aug 20 '13 at 1:56
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    I haven't had internet for the last week. only seeing this now. It's an impressive bit of plagiarism, especially since the tone of the writing changes so dramatically. Time for a letter to an editor. – Suresh Aug 22 '13 at 4:39
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    I just sent off a letter to the editor of the journal. What a way to get back online ! Thanks @TCSGrad for spotting this. The funniest thing about this is that my post is hardly original research. They could have read the references and cited them instead. – Suresh Aug 22 '13 at 5:32
up vote 40 down vote accepted

Ignoring the journal in question is probably an overreaction.

However, the best route to take is the first one—the author of the copyrighted material is the one that has the most responsibility to assert her rights. Your duty is to notify the person whose work has been infringed upon that the violation has taken place. Once you've done that, you've achieved what's ethically required of you. You are not obligated to take the matter up directly with the journal. (However, you may do so if you so choose.)

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    This is really the correct approach as you don't know for certain that the copying wasn't authorized. Leave it up to the original author to decide how to proceed. – tpg2114 Aug 19 '13 at 18:59
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    If the copy was authorised, I believe the sources should be in the references, which is not the case in the paper. – PatW Aug 20 '13 at 14:30

Dilbert

That being said, personally, I would contact the journal in question and inform them of the suspected plagarism. They may not be aware of the issue, as it's hard to be on top of all possible literature on a topic. The post may have been guest-posted from the original authors on the blog in question. There may be actual plagarism, and it would have to be dealt with. However, any solution relies on the journal being made aware of the problem. To paraphrase a famous quote, "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by lack of effort."

If you are for some reason worried about your being identified as the "whistleblower", so to speak, use an anonymous email address when you contact the journal.

This is very common among obscure journals. I have come across papers copy-pasting entire paragraphs from my papers and not even getting a citation.

It is possible to do something about it, but it is usually worthless since many of these journals even accept randomly generated papers (see).

In this case, I would go for 1., the second option might be too risky. Recall:

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The third one might not give you peace of mind.

I would start with option 4 (loosely based on Matt. 18:15-17, a principle of giving maximal opportunity for people to correct their own goofs):

  • Privately contact the apparent plagiarist(s) and point the problem out to them. Most likely, knowing that the plagiarism has been discovered, they will want to fix it ASAP before it becomes public knowledge. It's always conceivable that there has been an honest mistake, at least honest on the part of some of the group of faculty and students. And in that case it would be best to let those in the group address the problem. That's how I would want to be treated if I were in that group (whether I was guilty or not).
  • If they don't listen (e.g. if they make excuses) - contact their department or employer.
  • If they don't correct the situation, contact the journal, since they've published the material, and have a responsibility toward the copyright holder even if the plagiarists won't do the right thing.
  • I would contact the copyright holder only as a last resort, if the plagiarists and the journal both ignore the problem. Or, you could contact the copyright holder after the problem has been addressed.
  • How do you "fix" a plagiarized paper? Retraction seems to be the only way, and that would be done anyway if the problem is brought to the editor's attention! – TCSGrad Aug 20 '13 at 1:38
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    You forgot "Contact the plagiarists' department/employer". – JeffE Aug 20 '13 at 2:00
  • @TCSGrad: Retraction, yes, but it's a lot better for a retraction to come from the plagiarist if possible. Then a journal editor would have to retract it as well, but it would be at the request of the plagiarist, not forced upon them. – LarsH Aug 20 '13 at 2:21
  • @JeffE: Where would you put that in the sequence - before contacting the journal? – LarsH Aug 20 '13 at 2:31
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    Concurrently. If everyone is playing by the rules, the journal and the department would contact each other, so you'd only have to contact one of them. But I wouldn't count on that. – JeffE Aug 20 '13 at 2:38

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