6 months ago I presented a talk describing some research I had been doing and presenting some half finished results. Ive since discovered that one of the attendees took my idea from the talk and decided to pursue the same research project, albeit in a slightly different (but very similar) way. In the end, I uploaded to the arXiv first but we will be submitting to the same conference. One of the authors admitted in writing that they started working on the project after attending my talk. It feels unfair and like my idea has been taken and presented as someone else's, but is this plagiarism?

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    As you explain, the answer is yes, But i suspect that some details are missing, Too obvious.
    – markvs
    Commented May 13, 2022 at 17:32
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    It's certainly ungenerous and rude for that other party not to mention that your talk was at least part of the source of the idea. Commented May 13, 2022 at 17:43
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    When you say "One of the authors admitted in writing that they started working on the project after attending my talk", does this mean that they wrote this within their article in question, or somewhere else? Commented May 13, 2022 at 20:39
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    You didn't mention whether the authors of that other paper cited your talk in their paper. One of the key measures of success in academia is how often one's works are cited. So if they cited you, that's a good thing for you. It's only a problem if they didn't cite your work. Commented May 15, 2022 at 12:09
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    If your talk merely inspired someone to work on the same problem, but using a completely different approach, then that certainly isn't plagiarism: an acknowledgement would be courteous, but not essential. If you suggested an approach to solving the problem and they followed up on that suggestion, then a failure to acknowledge it would be discourteous, but again, not plagiarism. Plagiarism means presenting your work as their own; Building on your ideas is not plagiarism. Commented May 15, 2022 at 23:12

4 Answers 4


The whole purpose of conferences and talks is to disseminate ideas and knowledge. In some sense, if you had published on the topic and someone else picked up the ideas and used them in a different context, you would probably feel pleased to hear about it. You feel differently because you happened to not have written a publication on the topic, but that's not the other person's fault -- they did what the purpose of talks is: They learned from others and are using the knowledge.

I fail to see that that is wrong. How long would you like others to hold on with using the knowledge that you presented to them before they can use it themselves?

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    Even if it is a rough outline, it still needs to be cited. You cannot just lift substantial ideas from a talk without attribution. The fact that this is not on paper does not relieve the 'ursupers' from the responsibility to cite or acknowledge where they got their ideas from. This is plagiarism, albeit harder to prove than if the ideas were published. Though I agree with Buffy that it might be better to collaborate (assuming they are happy to, which they may not be). Commented May 13, 2022 at 20:01
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    @CaptainEmacs The OP does not actually say whether the other preprint cites anyone. (There is of course the issue that at the time of writing there was nothing to cite -- though there are other ways of pointing to the fact that something builds on others' work.) Commented May 13, 2022 at 21:04
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    @WolfgangBangerth Since OP does not mention it, I assume from the question it's not there. It would be far more borderline (and interesting) if it were, so I assume it's not. As for credit "The idea of wringing sausages through dirty socks was first brought up by John Smith at the Household Optimization conference in July 2022." It does not require much imagination to give even just minimal credit. What's more likely is that the "ursupers" heard the idea, forgot about it, remembered the idea without the origin, and then "nostrified" it without outright malicious intent. Happens a lot. Commented May 13, 2022 at 21:37
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    One can cite even a private conversation, as long as basic ethical standards are met.
    – fraxinus
    Commented May 15, 2022 at 1:32
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    I’m really shocked by this answer. Using the results like you would from a paper is fine — but jumping straight into someone’s work-in-progress is seen (in my experience in pure maths) as quite unethical, since it has a clear chilling effect — people get discouraged from discussing their work-in-progress by the fear of being “scooped”. I’d articulate the criterion roughly as: Say I attend X’s talk and it sparks an idea. When X writes up this work, could my idea overlap substantially with that paper? If this seems likely, then I wouldn’t pursue the idea without contacting X.
    – PLL
    Commented May 15, 2022 at 10:30

It is plagiarism if they present your ideas as their own. If they give you credit in some way then it isn't plagiarism, even if it isn't very courteous. Plagiarism is about the proper attribution of ideas. Citation is the way to avoid it. In this case, not enough is known here to make a real judgement, and, you say, they took them in a different direction.

Perhaps you have an opportunity, however, to work with them on these ideas jointly so that attribution is no longer an issue.

Note that you don't "own" ideas. Plagiarism isn't really about "stealing" what another "owns". It is a concept in scholarship that creators should be recognized.

Caveat: Laws vary and I've heard that some forms of plagiarism might be illegal in some places, but that isn't the norm.

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    +1 for "Perhaps you have an opportunity, however, to work with them on these ideas jointly so that attribution is no longer an issue." You could lose an enemy and gain a coauthor by doing this. Commented May 13, 2022 at 19:43
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    I wonder if this would be a researcher you'd want to collaborate with. Without further details, they seem like the kind of person to act unethically.
    – Drake P
    Commented May 14, 2022 at 4:56
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    @DrakeP perhaps - or perhaps they just thought the research was enough of a different direction to not interfere with OP's own research. imo talking to them about it is the best course of action to figure out how they are thinking about this.
    – lucidbrot
    Commented May 14, 2022 at 10:12
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    And one should note it may be quite unethical even if it's not plagiarism. Not just discourteous.
    – einpoklum
    Commented May 15, 2022 at 21:48

The National Science Foundation Research Misconduct regulation defines plagiarism as the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results or words without giving appropriate credit. I cite this source as one of many using the same formulation. Here it is clear it is also the idea that is the property of the "inventor", the persons intellectual property. And strictly based on that statement it seems like a clear case of property theft or plagiarism IF the source of the original idea is not given credit.

To take someones idea and develop it further is not in itself a problem, it is how science works. What is a problem is if the origin of an idea is not ones own and is not credited. Then it is intellectual property theft and something a reasearcher should avoid at all cost. What can be done in the individual case becomes a question of what one is willing to endure. An article based on the idea could be questioned by writing to the journal editor and explaining the case. In thge specific case where it seems two papers originating from the same idea will be published, it will depend on how "the other" paper presents the original idea and then something for the proceedings (equiv.) editor(s) to consider.

Plagiarism and intellectual property issues are issues of ethics.

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    I like that there are 2 different meanings of (a form of the word) "appropriate" in the NSF's definition.
    – Kimball
    Commented May 14, 2022 at 14:34
  • I think you are using the term "intellectual property" very loosely and inaccurately. It is a legal term and has a precise meaning. An "idea" is only intellectual property if a patent application has been filed. The expression of an idea (a written paper or a recording of a talk) is intellectual property because it is protected by copyright, but copyright only prevents copying the words, not making use of the ideas. Commented May 16, 2022 at 21:43
  • ´@MichaelKay I do not think you are corect and you do not provide an reference in support.l Of course, intellectual property is not a universal law since it requires governments globally to adhere to the idea. There are states that clearly violate this idea and as such make the idea void and of no significance. So please clarify your standpoint and provide support for your statement, it could even be a worthwhile response to the original question. Commented May 16, 2022 at 22:11

Reach out to them and ask them to cite your paper, as you suspect to be the source of one of their ideas.

As you know their paper exists, you have to cite them as well. Less because it is their idea, more to cover that others are working on this topic, too.

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