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One year ago, we discovered that one of our papers published in an IEEE journal was plagiarized by another paper published in the another journal.

I wrote the both journals; the journal I published in said they could do nothing, but the journal with the plagiarized paper did an investigation. The editor in chief (EiC) of this journal told me that he met with the author of the plagiarized paper, who confessed their misconduct, and the paper would be retracted. However, a year later, this has not happened, the EiC is no longer returning my e-mails, and the plagiarized paper continues to be cited.

We are seeking advice on how to best handle this situation.

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  • @Salva For some perspective, see the 293-page book ucpress.edu/book/9780520205130/stealing-into-print which deals with these kinds of issues in great detail.
    – eigengrau
    Commented Jun 19 at 16:58
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    Thanks for the book recommendation @eigengrau, I will take a close look at it
    – Salva
    Commented Jun 20 at 17:25
  • Is there a bibliographic database in your field that might also get involved? In math there are Mathscinet and zbMath, but these equivalents don't seem to exist in all fields. (Both Mathscinet and zbMath publish reviews (sometimes quite cursory) of all math papers; some of the reviews of plagiarized papers are quite funny.) Commented Jun 20 at 23:36
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    Mod's notice: we do not allow serious allegations against named individuals, per this policy. Normally we would have deleted this question with all its answers, but since considerable effort was already expended before we noticed the violation, we have instead redacted all mentions of the journals / papers / authors in question (at considerable effort). Please avoid including such details in future posts.
    – cag51
    Commented Jun 21 at 1:37

5 Answers 5

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To build upon Buffy's good answer, check out Retraction Watch. Specifically, their advice on what to do if you find misconduct. You're already followed most of their recommendations, but might also consider posting on https://pubpeer.com/.

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    Yes, I already wrote a comment on PubPeer, and some moderator has included some additional information. Not sure how PubPeer works and the impact it may have in these cases. Thanks for the advice!
    – Salva
    Commented Jun 19 at 7:13
  • Hopefully something happens from this post. If nothing else, this plagiarism has been publicly documented. Sorry if you cannot get any more resolution than this. Commented Jun 20 at 0:18
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Since plagiarism isn't normally (some exceptions) a legal issue, complaining to the other journal is about all you can do. You can specifically ask that journal to take the paper down and they might comply. If they don't, you can ask for justification, which you might get - or not.

If you want a large task, however, you can inform those who cite the other paper that it is admitted plagiarism and point them to your original. That is probably more work than it is worth, however, and may not be effective.

You may just have to let it go after a bit of trying. Bad things happen to good people. Sorry.

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    Since plagiarism isn't normally (some exceptions) a legal issue - does the publisher of the original not have some kind of copyright rights? Or is that rather an exception than the norm? Commented Jun 18 at 5:29
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    @FlyingTeller: Those are different things. Copying a whole paper verbatim with proper attribution is (usually) a copyright violation, but not plagiarism. Presenting a novel idea that someone else had in your own words without attribution is plagiarism, but (usually) not a copyright violation.
    – Heinzi
    Commented Jun 18 at 6:08
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    I would say this is worth pointing out a lot more than the usual "you might be interested to know about this work" (i.e. please cite me) email. It would be quite helpful for the community (and to anyone reading their papers) to point to the original work rather than some people who will clearly not be the right people to watch/get in contact with if you are interested in those results. It might be some work but I would try to set up some citation warning for the plagiarized email so that you can easily email everyone who wrongly cites it.
    – Kvothe
    Commented Jun 18 at 14:25
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    (cont'ed) You only need to spend some time crafting a clear email explanation (probably quoting the confession) once. After that you can reuse it. Hopefully after some time the community becomes more aware and this becomes less necessary.
    – Kvothe
    Commented Jun 18 at 14:26
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    Thanks for the advice, Buffy. One year ago, I did what you said, I wrote to all the authors who cited the plagiarized paper to let them know about the issue. I have an alert on Google Scholar and will continue to do so in the future. Not only that. I also checked all the other papers of this author and realized he also plagiarized at least 10 other papers. It was not difficult to check. I just click on "related articles" on Google Scholar, and the first entry was the original paper he copied from. So I also wrote to all the authors of the other papers to let them know.
    – Salva
    Commented Jun 19 at 7:16
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To expand on Adam Přenosil's comment - ask the second journal to retract the offending paper. Note this requires extensive plagiarism (a small amount of plagiarism might lead to a correction instead) and I have not looked at either paper in detail. However, if there really is extensive plagiarism and the EiC agrees, they should be able to retract the paper.

Retractions are a big deal (they definitely don't happen often) so they're not a quick process, with several different people involved.

If the EiC does not do anything, file a complaint with the publisher (in this case Elsevier).

Finally, retracted papers do continue to receive citations (example) so if your goal is to make sure the offending paper not get cited, it might not be achievable.

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    For what it's worth, the plagiarism is really obvious and inexcusable. After less than 15 minutes, it is clear to me that not only are there massive textual overlaps, the second paper also contains the same equations with the same numbering (with minor changes to the symbols used), the same figures (but with a different color theme), and the same summary tables (with tiny amounts added or subtracted in each cell). The second paper also contains material not found in the first paper, so the authors may be plagiarizing from another publication as well. The second paper needs to be retracted.
    – Schmuddi
    Commented Jun 18 at 15:25
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    Yes, as Schmuddi15 said, the second paper includes the same formulations, figures, and tables with results. They changed the second decimal or something like that. The EiC agreed it is a clear case of plagiarism, but nothing has happened in a year. I also wrote a complaint to Elsevier. Thanks for the advice.
    – Salva
    Commented Jun 19 at 7:21
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    With massive textual overlaps, the same equations with the same numbering, the same figures, and the same summary tables, you probably are looking at a copyright violation. This moves beyond civil tort law and places the publisher in the uncomfortable position of federal criminal. Consult a copyright lawyer. Commented Jun 19 at 14:17
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It may be possible to issue a DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown request if the plagiarism involves copyrighted material. You could send a formal, written complaint to the editor-in-chief requesting that the plagiarized article be retracted and removed from their website.

If the editor is unwilling or uninterested in working with you on this, you can file a DMCA takedown notice with the website hosting the plagiarized content.

I'm unsure as to whether you should reach out to the authors who have cited the plagiarized paper to provide the correct citation.

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    This probably depends on the licensing agreement an author has with their journal. If they've transferred the copyright, then they probably no longer have legal standing under the DMCA; it would have to be the journal that issues the DMCA takedown request.
    – anjama
    Commented Jun 18 at 11:27
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    I would strongly encourage anyone to consult a lawyer prior to issuing DMCA takedown request, or any legal action, as it opens yourself to legal liabilities.
    – David S
    Commented Jun 18 at 14:16
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    Besides the question of whether this is applicable, it seems un-scientific: Science thrives on transparency, especially in case of disputes and misconduct allegations. If the plagiarised paper gets taken down, then existing citations to it are left dangling, the plagiarists can hush up or downplay the situation as much as they want, and later readers have no way to judge the allegations. If it remains accessible but with a clear retraction notice, then people are directed to the correct work but can also confirm the plagiarism for themselves.
    – PLL
    Commented Jun 18 at 15:07
  • I decline to give legal advice on SE or any online forum, but there might be benefits to consulting a lawyer before trying to file a takedown request. At a minimum, it might be wise to review and give consideration to 17 USC 512(f). Commentary on that section is available at scholars.law.unlv.edu/nlj/vol14/iss1/8 among other places. Commented Jun 18 at 19:16
  • Thanks for all the advice. I'm not so sure about how these things work legally, so I'm waiting to see what Elsevier and IEEE copyright office have to say. As PLL suggested, just adding a retraction notice could be enough.
    – Salva
    Commented Jun 19 at 7:25
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Consider submitting a comment on that paper to the journal. In your comment, you can criticize their paper and explain that its main results were previously published. Comments are pretty common, so you can try.

Theoretically, the editor might reject the comment, but then you could persuade them by suggesting that you might share widely what happened (including the refusal of the editor to accept the comment). Of course, don't make it sound like a threat; just say that if the comment is rejected, then the only option left for you to set things right is to share the whole story with the research community. This, by itself, isn't a threat; it's just a statement of fact. The editor will figure out on their own how this could reflect on them and the journal.

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    "This is the most common way to address such issues in the research community." [citation needed] "you could persuade them by suggesting that you might share your correspondence widely, which could reflect poorly on both the editor and the journal" I am sorry, but this is a terrible recommendation. Commented Jun 17 at 15:37
  • @AdamPřenosil I've just edited the answer in response to your comment.
    – Mitsuko
    Commented Jun 17 at 16:00
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    I don't think your edit really changes anything. Your distinction between a threat and a statement of fact is largely fictitious. Commented Jun 17 at 21:26

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