TLDR at the bottom.

Odd situational question for everyone (or maybe not) since this is out of scope for me. Hoping to get a clearer insight from a more experienced crowd about research, plagiarism and copyright. Unfortunately, I'll have to be vague about specifics and names. Apologies for the long post but I hope someone has some insight.

Just for background information but the theory has been around for almost 100 years but different concepts/ideas are used to prove or further research the theory. I'll start the timeline in the year 2000 just for convenience but information is easily accessible at this time.

Researcher A uses proven concepts that have been used in different fields of study but not widely used specifically in their field however it's not known whether or not they're the first to use. The concept used by Researcher A was discussed on a community forum in 1996 (4 years prior) and on another forum in 1998 (2 years prior) to researcher A starting their own initiatives in 2000. A also made their concept and findings publicly available on their website and started self-publishing a book in 2004 in relation to their findings, 4 years after they first started.

Researcher B is new to the field and comes across the concept from researcher A via their website around 2005 and becomes interested in the concept. During this time they're also reading other researchers' findings (100-year-old theory so lots to catch up on). The more B learns the more they find that while the concept may be feasible, researcher A's findings, definitions of the theory and methodology are flawed so B stops referring to A's research a few months later and starts to conduct their own research. In order to do this, B builds up the concept's methodology from what they believe should work after months of research. Because of the flaws that they found with A, B never read the book that A made either.

After B conducted their own research and findings they also release the information publicly and have changed the methodology of the concept. It's shown that both A and B while using the same theory and similar concept have different results and definitions for the theory. A also congratulates and supports B during this time and admits that their findings and methodology are different from B's. After 3 years of research (2008 now), B decides to publish their findings in a book. While writing the book they never referred to or looked at A's findings but did cite any work that they did look at when writing. A is now claiming that B has plagiarized and infringed on their copyright because of 2 of 6 the definitions written in the book have similar passages referring to the concept; the concept itself is somewhat limited as it's limited to 2 variations for each aspect (so if there are 3 aspects there are 6 definitions). However, these definitions which are similarily written are used for different aspects of the concept which results in people achieving different results for the theory more than half the time. Also since it's a limited scope there's only so much you can write that differs from others' writing.

As far as I'm aware you can't copyright an idea which is the concept in this case and even more so since it's been around even before A started. However, I'm not too sure about the plagiarism. A is demanding to be acknowledged for their work however they didn't contribute to B's research nor were they the originators of the core concept. They just happened to popularize it a little and were B's introduction to the concept.

Has B plagiarized A? Does A deserve the acknowledgement for the aspect definitions despite them being different and resulting in different results? Or just acknowledgement for getting B started on this concept? Or none at all?

TLDR: A accuses B of plagiarism and copyright infringement. B was introduced by A to the concept/idea but never used their information due to inaccuracy. Concept/idea has been around before A started just not as popularized.

2 Answers 2


Honestly, there's too less info provided here for strangers on the internet to guess and come to a conclusion. I'd recommend talking to your research guides to look into the content and sort out the matter. After-all, it's a few definitions, and you have branched off to create fresh research on your own anyway, so your research isn't in danger. "Pick and choose your battles". Some battles may not be worth the time and energy.
Think about it this way: If you lived in a jungle and heard nothing about Newtons laws but you came up with those laws and definitions on your own and came to the city and tried publishing a book and then Newton accused you of plagiarism, what would be the right course of action? Unless you have hard evidence that you had not heard of Newtons laws earlier, nobody would believe you.

  • Unfortunately, the definitions are something like having a random person describe what an apple is from just looking at it. Without becoming too technical or abstract, there's a finite number of ways to describe/define an apple. Researcher A also tried to get B to abandoned their research and recruit them for A's research. Feb 10, 2020 at 5:39
  • Thank you for the input as well. Feb 10, 2020 at 5:49

Independently of whether you like the treatment of the theory by A (maybe it's incomplete, low-quality or even partially wrong), you have come across the theory through A. At this point, it is a matter of integrity to give credit to A for this.

Yes, the theory has been around before, and OP can develop their own derivatives, that is perfectly fine. It is not entirely clear now to me whether OP's definitions were derived/motivated by the definitions by A, or were developed completely independently. But, in any case, knowing about even a parallel (and not contributing) development, it is good form to cite it. People discovering things in parallel should give each other credit (check for a classic example for a case with a major dilemma the case of Darwin and Wallace).

I frankly find it difficult to understand why people insist on not citing others, despite the former clearly having delved into the work of the latter as a basis for their own, and insisting these others didn't contribute. Personally, I think it is at least appropriate to criticise them with open visor (but professionally) for lack of precision, lack of contribution or whatever one finds objectionable in the other person's work, than just silently drop them.

What is described here is not plagiarism in the strict sense, as far as I understand and assuming the description is accurate. Instead one could call this "diminishment or withholding credit". In this case this is credit for recognition of the importance of the problem, even if not dealing with it to the satisfaction of whoever cites them.

TL;DR: OP asks: "Or just acknowledgement for getting B started on this concept?" - Yes, at the very least.

  • I would agree that an acknowledgement for getting B started could be doable but A publicly said B plagiarized their work despite the divergence early on as A tried to stop B's research as well. A is claiming the research done after the fact is A's; because they introduced them and had some similar definitions. I added an example comment above regarding the definitions that they claim were stolen. An acknowledgement of a parallel study makes sense but how do you cite a book which you've never read or had access to? A does have information available online publicly but B never used. Feb 10, 2020 at 5:49
  • Thank you for the input as well. Feb 10, 2020 at 5:49
  • That A tries to recruit B is new information here. That puts an additional light on what's happening here, but, to be honest, it does not change the fact that acknowledgement of an existing source is the appropriate thing to do. Even if you had discovered it like after the fact, certainly, however, if you have been motivated by the person. Otherwise, people could just read an abstract, ignore the rest of the papers, develop a theory and say that they didn't use the work of the other person [it is polemic, I know, but is an extreme version of the situation]. Anyway, damage's done. Feb 10, 2020 at 8:58
  • Best you can do, in my opinion, is, state you had been initially introduced to the topic by them, but then not further followed their development and start citing them from now on. I can only recommend not to play "who was first" games, this usually ends badly for both sides, but worse for the weaker party. Feb 10, 2020 at 9:01

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