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I've recently sent some of my research to a local conference entitled "XIX Simpósio Brasileiro de Sensoriamento Remoto". After the conference, I started getting contacted by some publishers asking me to publish the work I sent to the conference in the form of a book chapters and another one even invited me to publish as a paper itself in a journal. None of them required me to edit the work in any way.

I'm aware that academics get scammed this way (I managed to identify some myself), but this particular invitation seemed okay. The editor was very honest about the publisher status ("We're not big", "We aim to achieve this and that in X months", etc...) and I have colleagues that have published with them and nothing went wrong (meaning publication really happened, the e-book is available for download and all).

Then, I received an e-mail by the conference staff alerting all participants to the risks of plagiarism if one is to accept these publishers' offers. They argumented that the conference proceedings are open access, they have a ISBN and used this as to validate their statements. Additionally, they said they would be taking legal measures. Honestly it seemed more like a power play than anything.

Normally, I would agree with the e-mail, face this as self plagiarism and don't even consider this as an option, but a fellow colleague pointed out that conference proceedings doesn't count as a publication because it has no DOI nor ISSN (both entries are used on my country to score for PhDs and funding, but not ISBN). In his mind, as far as academy goes, my work is still "new" and there would be nothing wrong in publishing it, especially considering nobody cites conference proceedings.

I understand that it is normal to use the conference proceedings as a type of feedback while you're developing your research, but I published a substancial amount of my results on this paper and I don't really know if I could only cite it on this book chapter invitation I received, otherwise it would be nothing left to talk about.

So, what I want to understand is: what are the rules to consider something properly published, and therefore, accountable for self plagiarism? Is there a way to publish this book chapter in a unethical way? For example, including that this chapter is a reissue of conference yadda yadda would do?

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    As part of the process of publishing in the conference proceedings, did you transfer copyright? Or do you retain the copyright to the work? The legal actions referenced by the conference organizers probably relate to copyright, not plagiarism. – ff524 Jun 17 at 20:26
  • No, I retain all copyright. I didn't sign any type of transferral term. – Eric Lino Jun 17 at 20:50
  • After the conference, I started getting contacted by some publishers asking me to publish the work I sent to the conference in the form of a book chapters and another one even invited me to publish as a paper itself in a journal. Check they aren't predatory. (Academics get bombarded with such predatory mail.) There's no doubt about it because colleagues have published with them and nothing went wrong. How can you be so sure? _ I received an e-mail by the conference itself alerting all participants to the risks..._ This seems like a red flag. – user2768 Jun 18 at 7:34
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You have a few misconceptions. Having an ISBN is no guarantee of legitimacy, honesty, or quality as anyone can purchase such. In bulk they are very cheap. I currently have several unassigned ISBNs myself, intended for future work.

Second, if your paper has been submitted to a conference and appears in the proceedings then it is "published" and so subsequent uses are not original.

However, self plagiarism only occurs if you reuse some work without citing it. If you still hold copyright, as is likely, you can reuse the thoughts and many of the actual words as long as you are careful. Cite the original conference work as appropriate and formally quote from it as necessary. Perhaps you gave up copyright already, but I think that is unlikely in this case and you would know anyway if you had signed a transfer. And it isn't the ISBN on the original that makes it self plagiarism. It is copying without citing.

Cite your own work the way you would that of another author.

The main purpose of avoiding self plagiarism is to permit a future reader to trace the full context of the ideas in the new work by examining the old with its full context, including all references you cited there. Future researchers want a full record. Ordinary plagiarism includes this as well as other concerns, of course.

But some of what the publishers seem to be saying seems a bit of a scam. I can't say without more information, but it has that feel. Legitimate publishers also have "page charges". Try to assess the legitimacy of the publisher using other information before you agree.

  • Thanks for the answer, Buffy. However, I'd like to clear some things up (please, I'm not refuting your answer in any way, I'm merely trying to remove some of the ambiguity i might have created upon writing): I'm well aware that having a ISBN isn't a guarantee. I was only citing the information provided on the e-mail I received. Also, I understand that legitimate publishers have page charges. But 50 usd/page for a non-indexed journal seemed a bit too extreme. This particular publisher I was considering to accept charged me a compatible price compared to other publishers and... – Eric Lino Jun 18 at 19:02
  • ... explicitly told me it wasn't necessary to change my paper to publish with them. Is this considered unethical (on the publisher's perspective)? If so, is there a feasible way to use my published paper's results in this book chapter? – Eric Lino Jun 18 at 19:03
  • Yes, I do think that the situation sounded like a bit of a scam. But the information about the reputability and quality of the journal is probably available to you. You could also ask the conference chair about their opinion about this - especially about publishing unchanged. Sometimes a publisher has an agreement with the conference making this possible. I've had some papers published under those rules - no page charges though. – Buffy Jun 18 at 19:04
  • That's exactly what I did. I presented the situation to the conference staff. Let's see what happens. – Eric Lino Jun 18 at 19:18
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I have seen books with things in them along the lines of "A big part of this chapter was already published in XX Journal in XX year. The publisher was kind enough to allow me to duplicate some if it here in order to complete the narrative of my book...". It is important to note that in such cases, the entire book was by the same Author, so the book had a considerable amount of new content by that author in it.

One book with such statements in is is Causality by Judea Pearl. I feel like I have seen it elsewhere too, but none others come to mind at the moment.

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The DOI and ISSN systems were introduced in 2000 and 1976, respectively. Does your colleague think it was impossible to plagiarize articles published before then? Or impossible to plagiarize old articles that have not yet been assigned DOIs? And the ISBN system provides identifiers for books. Does your colleague think it's impossible to plagiarize books? I would hope the answer is 'no' to all questions.

In any case, this could be self-plagiarism if not cited properly. As ff524 states in a comment, the conference cannot really take legal actions based on the plagiarism itself - but they could certainly point it out to any journal you might try to publish in, or blacklist you for future years. Any respectable journal will have a policy against prior publication. Such policies often has exceptions for e.g. publication in the form of a thesis/dissertation, but I have never seen a policy making an exception for a published article that happens to lack a certain identifier. Of course, less respectable publishers might not care to have or enforce such a policy.

If you did transfer copyright to have the article published in the proceedings, then the conference can pursue legal actions (such as takedowns) to protect their copyright. If you did and you want to convert the article to a book chapter, you or the publisher of the book would have to clear the copyright issue with the conference. (That is, obtain permission before publishing.) If the article gets re-published anyway, the conference could conceivably sue the publisher for damages. The publisher could, in turn, conceivably try to sue the author for damages if the author certified that the work had not been previously published.

What if you didn't transfer any copyright, and the license granted to the conference was non-exclusive? Well, if you manage to find a publisher willing to re-publish the article under another non-exclusive license, and you cite the original one properly, you shouldn't be on the hook legally or in terms of self-plagiarism. However, in most cases, for most publishers, I think you're unlikely to gain much from it. Certainly from your story, these publishers sound mostly like opportunists, and possibly scammers, approaching you right soon after the conference. Now, if it is a legitimate, well-known publisher putting together a volume on a certain topic that would see wide distribution? Yes, that could certainly be worth considering.

  • I can't say if it applies in this case, of course, but there are legitimate uses of such things in books if they bring together ideas on a given topic from several authors. A conference paper is only a brief snapshot. A book can present a unified and coherent picture. But there are a lot of scams, of course, as you say. But, for example, a hundred years ago, a book on Relativity might usefully have brought together the work of the previous fifteen years or so. It doesn't have to be a scam. – Buffy Jun 17 at 21:04
  • @Buffy Thanks for your comment. Yes, there are certainly legitimate reasons to write such book chapters. I think I need to rework that statement. – Anyon Jun 17 at 21:14

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