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I was working for a company where we put forward a paper with other colleagues. I was the first author and the paper got rejected. After that I left that company. Recently, I found out that they published the paper removing my name from the list of authors and they simply put me in the acknowledgements. The paper was basically the same. They did not even want to answer me when I asked for clarifications. After I asked the editor to intervene, their excuse was that because I left the company, they could not put my name as a researcher for their institution and that the research belonged to them. Because of that I had no rights for authorship. They even threatened me in case I have drafts of the first submission stating that I have no rights to take them with me when I left. Can such claim was made and the authorship entirely removed based on the project ownership. I was clearly the main contributor

Thanks for your answers

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    What did the editor say? – Poidah Oct 14 at 21:56
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    They started to hear both of us and then asked me to solve it with them – RedS Oct 15 at 18:19
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    You didn't mention your legal jurisdiction but in the US at least, the "they could not put my name as a researcher" part is factually incorrect. At a previous employer, I saw many publications and patent applications where some of the listed authors had retired or otherwise left the company. For them to say they can't seems either disingenuous or misinformed. – bta Oct 15 at 22:56
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    Why is this I was working for a company question being asked in Academia.SE instead of Workplace.SE. – RonJohn Oct 17 at 14:16
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    @RonJohn could it be because the question is about authorship on a paper and workplace is for general employment/career-related questions? Everything but the part you highlighted isn't related to workplace. – Based Oct 17 at 15:17
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Other responses talk about the law. However, if the paper, as I assume (after all this is academia.SE), is academic, there is another set of values that rule the matter, and that is defined by the academic rules for authorial attribution of scientific contributions; unlike patent or copyright ownership, they are not waived by working for a company.

Moral rights or not - if you have significantly contributed to the paper (as evidenced by the first submission round), academically spoken, you are a co-author. Removing you is unethical and a breach of academic rules. It is academic misconduct. There is no "ghostwriting" in academia.

Laws or not: the decision to take away a doctoral title is in many countries not a legal, but an academic decision, to be decided by the academic institution that conferred it and not by court. Similar here: the judgement whether this is academic misconduct is happening on the academic, not the legal level.

Note: the fact that they demand the drafts seems to indicate that they know this and try to deprive you of the evidence that you have been co-author on a virtually identical copy; which, if in your possession, would prove that you were a co-author and should remain so for the resubmission.

This may well be a legal trick on their side to improve their position in an academic misconduct investigation. On that part of the matter, you may need the support of a lawyer if you intend to fight, because of course, the company may have the ownership of the ideas and the copyright. But not the right to remove you as co-author.

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    I would like to add that even if the company has the legal right to remove you as a co-author that does not mean the journal is forced to publish the article with you removed. Even if the company is in the legal right to pursue publication without your attribution, you can still make an academic integrity complaint to the editor and request they retract the paper or ask the company to add you to the authors. Holding the moral rights to a piece of work simply means you cannot be sued for claiming it is yours, it does not mean you are owed a platform to publish it under your name. – orlp Oct 15 at 10:26
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    Note that the editor of the journal does not have to respect your request either, and may choose to honor whoever holds the legal moral rights and ignore academic integrity. If the editor chooses to do this you do not have any further recourse other than legal (for which you'll need a lawyer to tell you what your chances of success are given your contract). – orlp Oct 15 at 10:29
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    @Redha.S "Where enforceable" - this is the critical question. You probably would need to refer to legal advice here. – Captain Emacs Oct 15 at 10:32
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    I contacted the editor who contacted the person who submitted the paper. They replied with some lies like the did a bunch of modifications (which are not true) and that I was only the point of contact rather than the first author in the first submisson. The editor asked me to settle things with them directly – RedS Oct 15 at 13:47
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    +1 for “there is no ghostwriting in academia”. The people OP is dealing with are confusing (intentionally, I suspect) ownership with authorship. This is misconduct, pure and simple. – Dan Romik Oct 15 at 18:46
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Others have already argued that this is not OK, but probably you are asking yourself what to do now.

You haven't insisted enough with the editor. Ask formally for retraction. Tell them the other parties refuse to collaborate and you cannot solve the issue with them. Present the editor all evidence you have, and especially put them in contact with the editor/journal that handled the first rejected submission. They will surely have the first submitted manuscript on record, and that is strong evidence in your favor.

(Converted from a comment upon moderator request, even though it does not answer the stated question.)

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their excuse was that because I left the company, they could not put my name as a researcher for their institution and that the research belong to them.

Other answers regarded the general question, I'll just say that this excuse is invalid:

  1. They can still be the owners of the IP even if you are recognized as the author - you simply transferred ownership.
  2. Companies publish papers all the time where some of the authors have already left and it is no problem at all for them.
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In addition to @Captain Emacs' fine answer:

An academic paper is inter alia a testimony by the authors that the facts and theses presented therein are correct and true to the best of the authors' knowledge. Centuries of experience has shown that the scientific method rigorously requires this personal accountability.

Although the authors' names traditionally are placed under the title of the paper, the names might as well appear at the end of the document, under a declaration such as "We, the undersigned, do hereby aver and testify that the facts and theses presented above..." etc. etc.

If you remove your name from the authorship of a paper, you are stating that you no longer believe that the contents of the paper are scientifically sound.

If someone else removes your name from the authorship of a paper, that person is stating that you no longer believe that the contents of the paper are scientifically sound. This is fraud; there is no other term for it.

Your ex-employer may be free to make any use of your work product, but your ex-employer is not free to make false claims about what you are prepared to testify to. If you were disposed to bring a lawsuit, this would seem to be your best basis on which to seek relief.

  • +1 Good take on things. – Captain Emacs Oct 15 at 18:36
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    Wrong. A paper makes no statement about what people not on the author list believe. To assert otherwise is to claim that a single-author paper is making a claim that the other 6 billion people on earth believe the paper is unsound. What!?! – Ben Voigt Oct 15 at 22:07
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    @Ben Voigt: Thank you for explaining your downvote. I think silent downvotes are almost useless as they give the author no opportunity to improve the answer. – A. I. Breveleri Oct 16 at 1:30
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    No, removing an author's name from a paper without his permission is making a fraudulent claim that the author no longer testifies to its contents. Ben's point merely shows that the fraud leaves no evidence in the paper itself. – A. I. Breveleri Oct 16 at 10:20
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    The reason this situation qualifies as fraud is because of the implied claim that the listed authors did all the work presented in the paper. That is false, as they did only the small portions not performed by OP. It is misrepresentation of authorship and academic malfeasance. It is "ghostwriting" and probably isn't illegal if OP has assigned intellectual property rights to the company. But the editor of a scientific journal should not accept ghostwritten papers... – Ben Voigt Oct 16 at 18:53
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This will also depend on legislation.

The particular IP rights of concern here are the so-called Moral rights which include the right to attribution.

In some legislations (e.g. in continental Europe) the moral rights cannot be transferred or waived (only the rights for economic exploitation are transferred to the employer), while in others (e.g. US) this is possible.

(It is probably their right to demand that you do not take any work-related documents such as the drafts with you. Where I am, even academic employers can do that, and I've had one such employer who excercised that right.

I'd expect that your [competing] rights to keep material that allows you to defend/proove your position in case of a litigation at court between you and the [former] employer to be extremely dependent on legislation. Here in Germany, you would probably not be allowed to keep the draft - instead you'd have to ask the court to order the employer to show that draft if needed.)


Update: link to academic authorship rules

@CaptainEmacs correctly points out that academic authorship follows an additional set of rules.

I expect that at some point during the submission of the paper the [remaining] authors have signed paperwork where they

e.g. the Committee On Publication Ethics sets as a minimal standard for journals in their Authorship:

At a minimum, authors should guarantee that they have participated in creating the work as presented and that they have not violated any other author’s legal rights (eg, copyright) in the process

IMHO, signing the respective statement "pulls" the academic authorship rules into a legally binding contract.


For OP, I see three possible approaches (short of letting the affair slide):

  • Getting legal advise. Many academic institutions do have ombudspersons that are experienced with such situations. Even if the old employer is not an academic institution, it may be possible to get a legal opinion at a nearby university. Even if the ombudsperson says they are not allowed to advise outsiders, they should at least be able to point OP to someone (lawyer) who is knowledgable/specialized on such trouble.
  • Contact the journal. As the journal's reputation and integrity depends on their contracts with their authors being as they claim, they should look into this.
  • COPE also has a database of cases and OP may look whether they have given recommendations for situations as theirs.
    I had a quick glance and the involvement of a non-academic employer may make this a case without precedent. Usually, COPE seems to recommend that authorship disputes should be settled by the [academic] institution which is obviously expected to have a procedure in place for such happenings. These reports (IMHO rightly) notice that it is very difficult for a journal editor to actually find out authorship - they can usually rely only on what they are told whereas an institutional investigation has access to the actual documents/emails/draft versions etc.
    This is going to be very difficult in OP's case.
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    You may be able to sell your moral rights in "ghostwriting" a branded novel, perhaps (i.e. a novel with a single best-selling author on the title page). I am not sure you can have academic author rights waived in the same way as "moral rights" of fiction. I do not think academic author rights are in the legal domain; but this requires legal advice. – Captain Emacs Oct 15 at 10:31
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    In countries that have it, moral rights + copyright makes up author's rights. The author may choose to remain anonymous, but can not be forced to in countries where moral rights are inalienable. In such countries, no ghostwriter NDA can be enforced. And those laws certainly applies to an academic paper. – lvella Oct 15 at 10:53
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    @cbeleites Yes, I suspect the employer tries this. However, academia has its own set of rules. Clearly, we are in no-mans-land here. It really requires advice of a lawyer if OP considers fighting. – Captain Emacs Oct 15 at 11:16
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    Instead of "returning" the draft to them, OP could place the draft with a protected 3rd party (e.g. a state-approved attorney or similar), until the situation is clarified. This way the company has no legal recourse against OP and OP is protected from the former employer having evidence disappear. – Captain Emacs Oct 15 at 18:35
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    @RedS I am merely guessing that this may be a possibility worth investigating, but of course you need to investigate. Instead of a lawyer, it might be a notary who can provide such a service. – Captain Emacs Oct 15 at 23:07
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This would probably depend on the contract you had with the company when you worked for them. It is possible that they do, indeed, own your IP for that period. Such contracts are actually pretty common. You may also have a non-disclosure agreement, preventing you from discussing your work there.

But there may also be national or other laws that limit what can go into contracts of this sort.

But be aware of the consequences of the employment contracts you sign. Some companies will negotiate the terms within reason. Others not so much.

  • Good point. In my country the law does not limit what can be in a contract but does limit what can actually be enforced. Causing much confusion obviously. – Ivana Oct 16 at 11:16
  • Yes. It is normal practice that companies own the intellectual property generated by their employees. Academia has a different set of rules that allows academics to retain intellectual properties rights and usually an official IP policy that hands over those rights. However, OP clearly states that that they were working for a company. Though it would still be reasonable that OP be included as an author. – JenB Oct 17 at 11:35
  • Owning the IP, and being the author are different things. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Oct 17 at 14:36

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