84

I am a high school student who has worked on multiple (well, 4 to be exact) pure math and CS papers. All of them deal with fairly significant problems, so some of them have been published by now too.

Today, I saw a paper which looked quite similar to a paper that I published back in May. I was shocked to notice that the author of that paper had plagiarised my entire paper verbatim. He went as far as saying that his results were novel and found out all by him and his co-author.

Now, this paper was published in a junk journal. I am worried because, although I do not want to pursue a career in academia, these papers mean a lot to me as I have worked so hard on them. Moreover, I believe that they can play a major role in securing me admissions at a good undergraduate college next year as well as a graduate college in the years to come.

I have already notified the journal but I doubt that I will get a reply. Could you please let me know the further steps to be taken too?

I am just about to seek admissions to undergraduate college, so I would want to stay away from taking legal action (if at all I can take any) and use it only as a last resort.

Thank you for your time.

  • 41
    Where was your paper plagiarized from? Did you publish it in a journal? On arXiv? Somewhere else? In order to answer your question it's important to know whether and how you can establish that it was you who wrote the paper and the other person who plagiarized it, rather than the other way around. – Dan Romik Nov 12 '15 at 6:41
  • 20
    Dan, it was published on Arxiv. Rest assured, I can fully establish the fact that I was the one who was the original author. I'm looking for advice regarding the steps to be taken now, as I only found out about it today and to be honest, I never really thought that something like this could happen. – Mega_Noob Nov 12 '15 at 6:46
  • 4
    This matter is serious, but you should not be too worried to be harmed for college admission. I don't even see why the colleges would notice the plagiarizing paper, and if they did they would certainly understand what happened given the respective dates of publication. You may want to mention your arXiv preprint to ensure there cannot be any doubt on your priority, without even having to mention the plagiarism. – Benoît Kloeckner Nov 12 '15 at 10:25
  • 46
    The authors admitted to plagiarizing my paper and the journal will be taking the paper down in a while (or so I have been told). I will also be contacting their institution tomorrow and informing about this. But I am glad that this situation was resolved swiftly. Thank you all for your help – Mega_Noob Nov 12 '15 at 14:53
  • 14
    Many problems described on this site don't have such happy endings, so hearing your update makes me really happy. Thanks for sharing. – ff524 Nov 13 '15 at 2:23
57

I am a high school student who has worked on multiple (well, 4 to be exact) pure math and CS papers. All of them deal with fairly significant problems, so some of them have been published by now too.

Wow. That's awesome!

Today, I saw a paper which looked quite similar to a paper that I published back in May. I was shocked to notice that the author of that paper had plagiarised my entire paper verbatim. [...] I am worried because [...] these papers mean a lot to me as I have worked so hard on them.

Yes, of course. Trust me, there is no one who has ever written a serious paper who isn't just as emotionally invested in it as you are in your own papers, so we understand. I personally discovered only a few weeks ago that some loser plagiarized some of my work and submitted it as his own (not to a journal but as a final project for a university class, fortunately), so I know quite what an annoying and hurtful feeling it is, even though in my particular case this action does not threaten me in any way.

I have already notified the journal but I doubt that I will get a reply. Could you please let me know the further steps to be taken too?

I agree with your assessment. Junk journals, like the people who publish in them, have no ethics, they are predatory entities usually based in corrupt and lawless countries. The "editor" is most likely a nephew of someone at the criminal or semi-legal enterprise that set up this journal.

As for what you should do, there aren't that many options that do not involve legal action of some sort. Basically, you should try to discredit the journal and the plagiarist (who are both complicit in this misconduct), and shame them into removing the plagiarized paper from the web, by contacting:

  1. The department chair and other administrators (dean, ethics committee, ombudsperson) at the plagiarist's institution. Note that chances are this institution may itself be a very low-quality, poorly ranked and possibly corrupt institution in a less-than-developed country, so it is just as uncertain that your complaint will lead somewhere as in the case of complaining to the journal; but regardless, it certainly won't hurt to try.

  2. Any journal indexing service or other similar entity that gives credibility to academic journals by including them on lists it compiles, and may not be aware of the scamminess of the journal in question. Here is an example of such a service that I found through Google (which also has a list of excluded journals that apparently it considers disreputable). I do not use such services myself so do not know which ones are important/credible and which ones aren't; perhaps others can comment on this.

  3. Any news media in the country where the journal and/or plagiarist are based who may be interested in this story of academic fraud.

  4. Western bloggers or journalists who are interested in dishonesty and fraud in academia. Again, I'm far from an expert on this so don't have too many specific suggestions, but Retraction Watch is a name that gets thrown around a lot.

At the end of the day, if all of those methods fail, your last resort would be legal action, since the journal and plagiarist author are committing an infringement of your copyright. Even if they are in far away countries, they are probably within the reach of the law, but it would likely be a long and costly battle, and I think you are right to want to avoid taking that route. Good luck, and keep up the good work! I'm sorry you are getting to experience the nasty part of academia at such an early stage before getting a chance to see all the good parts. I am sure this experience will not be representative and will be followed by many more positive ones.

  • 8
    Thank you for your elaborate answer. I wrote the editor an email and I also contacted the authors' institution. The plagiarisers are from my own country, and I have talked to my parents about this too. I'll keep you posted on what happens next – Mega_Noob Nov 12 '15 at 9:23
  • 1
    Regarding point #1, I think it could hurt to try, if the institution is in fact corrupt and/or the administrators have loose ethical standards. Especially as a high school student, it's much easier to deal with a single instance of being plagiarized than to deal with multiple tenured faculty holding a grudge against you! So I would have advised getting someone in the field on your side, to give you the go-ahead, before proceeding with step #1. That being said, @Mega_Noob, you probably won't have to worry about that. – David Z Nov 12 '15 at 11:50
  • Dan, please see the update to the situation in the comments section of the answer by @Ghost. Thank you for your help – Mega_Noob Nov 12 '15 at 14:53
  • 5
    Fantastic news, great to hear it (though I would make sure the journal follows up on its promise before popping the champagne...), and you're most welcome. – Dan Romik Nov 12 '15 at 15:11
  • 2
    I would consider 3. and 4. to be a complete waste of time, and 2. to be a dubious use of one's time. If news media wanted to write a story 'Obscure researcher commits plagiarism in order to advance career at unprestigious institution' they could find hundreds of examples in a few minutes searching the web. – jwg Nov 13 '15 at 10:26
40

Firstly, congratulations on being able to publish before college - that is a significant achievement.

In regards to your plagiarised paper, I would contact the editor of the journal that you published your article in (not the junk journal), inform them of what you have found and supply the evidence that you have found.

  • 10
    +1. The publisher of the journal in which your paper appeared probably has more resources and incentive than you do to follow up on the matter. – user38309 Nov 12 '15 at 6:43
  • 9
    Do followup here about how your case progressed. – krammer Nov 12 '15 at 6:54
  • 3
    Important answer, as such plagiarism issues are the main reason given by (most) publishers to have authors sign a copyright transfer agreement. I would be interested in discovering whether they are up to their claims in such cases. – Benoît Kloeckner Nov 12 '15 at 10:19
  • 18
    The authors admitted to plagiarizing my paper and the journal will be taking the paper down in a while (or so I have been told). I will also be contacting their institution tomorrow and informing about this. But I am glad that this situation was resolved swiftly. Thank you all for your help – Mega_Noob Nov 12 '15 at 14:51
  • 2
    @Mega_Noob If the paper is due to be taken down but it hasn't yet, you should ensure now that you have appropriate screenshots of the journal webpage and that it is saved into the Wayback Machine. These are useful to have around in case anything comes up, or you later on decide to take further action. – E.P. Nov 13 '15 at 1:01
14

As Dan Romik notes in a comment, you need to be able document clearly that you have been plagiarized rather than the other way around.

Assuming that you can do so, contacting the journal is a good first step. If your case is well documented, you could also contact the university of those who plagiarized you. You could begin with a letter to the chairman of the department in which the plagiarizing authors are employed.

  • 1
    Great. Let us know what happens... – Teusz Nov 12 '15 at 6:50
  • 4
    @Mega_Noob wait a minute. I thought they plagiarized your entire paper. Now you are saying there are errors in the plagiarized paper. Either they were errors in your paper that were plagiarized or they are original errors (or possibly the errors were plagiarized from another paper). – emory Nov 12 '15 at 10:05
  • @emory They plagiarized my entire paper (which does not contain errors). I know this because everything is copied verbatim. I'm sorry if you misunderstood something that I wrote above. I probably wrote the errors part in a haste, I know why you seem to have the misunderstanding. Apologies for the same – Mega_Noob Nov 12 '15 at 14:44
  • 1
    The authors admitted to plagiarizing my paper and the journal will be taking the paper down in a while (or so I have been told). I will also be contacting their institution tomorrow and informing about this. But I am glad that this situation was resolved swiftly. Thank you all for your help. – Mega_Noob Nov 12 '15 at 14:50
  • 1
    @emory errors was a typo in the comment above. My paper did not contain any errors and so didn't theirs, because they copied verbatim from my paper – Mega_Noob Nov 13 '15 at 2:13
10

First of all you have priority. The date of your publication is earlier. Even if the later paper was identical by pure coincidence (however unlikely that is) you still got there first. Anyone now or in the future who conducts serious research in the area will discover that.

From a peace-of-mind point of view, I suggest you decide precisely what it is that worries you from a practical standpoint. Are you worried that the other person will receive a Fields Medal in your place? Are you concerned that it will affect your chances of being accepted at the college of your choice? Whatever the case, avoid being bitter and twisted about it -- that would only make you an unattractive prospect to work with. Always look forward not back. Only when you are very old should you look back with satisfaction at a successful and productive career.

  1. Fields medal

If you build a reputation as a trailblazing mathematician with many results to your name, then that in itself will make people tend to believe you rather than this other person. In any case there will be thorough checks before presenting any awards. If they discover that someone has plagiarised you then this will lower their opinions of the other person and of the other journal.

  1. College admissions

(a) The people examining your application will see that you have several published papers--not just one. (b) They will be aware of the difference between a prestigious journal and a junk one. (c) If they read your paper they will see what others led up to it and, if they are thorough, they will see if anyone has cited your results in later papers. They are less likely to pursue a thorough survey of the field unless they give that task to a grad student. If they do and discover the other paper they will clearly see that your publication date comes first. If they have the slightest thoughts of plagiarism then the dates of publication will clear that up. If they still suspect you then they will quiz you at interview to make sure you understand your own paper. Obviously you will understand it and be able to expand on it if necessary. If the subject of the other paper comes up, you can casually say you saw it and mention the flaws. There's no need to throw accusations around. Simply say "It must have been a coincidence. I was disappointed they didn't find my paper when they did their literature search. I notice they missed a few points that I covered in my paper and there were a few errors, for example ..." Allow them to draw their own conclusions. If you display a calm forgiving attitude, they will see you as a mature individual who doesn't get snarky around other people's work and therefore someone they want to have around.

Sample conversation (substitute your own words)

Interviewer: Are you aware that #### published a very similar paper on the same subject?

You: Yes, I saw that. It was in the xyx journal I believe. I have to admit I was a little disappointed they didn't find my work when they did their literature search.

Interviewer: What did you think of the other paper?

You: Well I noticed that they missed the result that ###### implies %%%%%%%. Also there seemed to be a couple of errors, for example they said that aaaaaaaaaaaaaa whereas I think I can show that bbbbbbbbbbb. Apart from that it covered pretty much the same ground.

P.S.

Before interview, thoroughly review your own paper as well as prior and subsequent papers in the same field and of course the paper you are complaining about. If they have even the slightest suspicion of you then they will test your knowledge -- that is guaranteed. If you have done this review, all the facts will be at your fingertips and they will see you as someone on top of their game. Avoid criticising the other author -- it makes you look petty. Remember to acknowledge the contributions of the other good authors. That way you will come across as thoughtful, generous and a generally good egg.

  • Thank you for your valuable advice. The author of the other paper did admit to blatantly copying everything from my paper and they are in the process of taking down the paper. I might have overreacted because it is not something that I have thought about even the slightest, let alone experience it. Apologies for the same. – Mega_Noob Nov 12 '15 at 14:49
  • I'd be surprised if 2b were true for undergraduate admission. They might have a rough idea of the very best journals (e.g., Science) but I'd be surprised if they could distinguish between middling/typical journals and pure junk. However, faculty often review the files for graduate admission and they would probably know. – Matt Nov 14 '15 at 20:36
6

It would be more important to notify the editor of the journal in which your paper was plagiarized than just the editor of your journal publication (which would also be useful). It is their negligence that lead to the publication of a plagiarized article. The journal authorities should be obliged to do what's necessary as this would risk their reputation.

Date of manuscript submission is the key element to be compared here. Apart from which if your matter involves simulation, you would be having the original codes to reproduce the matter which would also serve as evidence.

  • The OP stated that the journal that published the plagiarized paper is a junk journal, so it may not have much of a reputation to hurt, and if so will probably not care very much about the complaint. – Dan Romik Nov 12 '15 at 7:32
  • @DanRomik: Even a 'junk' journal would require some reputation to build or at least to work on. I doubt any editor would happily welcome the legal consequences associated with it. – Ébe Isaac Nov 12 '15 at 9:13
  • 6
    @ÉbeIsaac (1) Incorporate (2) Publish Junk (3) When Negative Reputation or Legal Consequences Too High, Bankruptcy = Legal Death of Corporation (4) Repeat – emory Nov 12 '15 at 10:08
6

Other suggestions have been made that I agree with (notably contact the journal you published in and the journal and publisher the plagiarized paper was published by), but you can also turn to the ethics committee of the EMS (even if you are not an EMS member nor a European resident). In particular, if your first move don't give you the expected result, you should appeal to the ethics committee ; they don't have much legal power (if any at all), but they can have some influence on journals. Ultimately, by issuing statements about such cases they can help clarify which publishers and journal can be called junk -- a good thing and something that can hurt them.

  • The authors admitted to plagiarizing my paper and the journal will be taking the paper down in a while (or so I have been told). I will also be contacting their institution tomorrow and informing about this. But I am glad that this situation was resolved swiftly. Thank you for your help – Mega_Noob Nov 12 '15 at 14:51
3

Copying your paper without permission of the copyright holder is copyright infringement. If you are the copyright holder, that is if you didn't assign your copyright to the paper that published it legitimately, then all you have to do is to send a DMCA takedown notice to arxiv, and you can be quite sure that the paper will be removed.

However, it is essential that you are the copyright holder. Not the author, but the copyright holder. Which you are unless you signed over the copyright to someone else. You don't have to prove it at this point, but it must be true, because you have to state under penalty of perjury that you are or that you represent the copyright holder of the paper that you think has been copied. Of course if paper that published your paper is the copyright holder, you can just ask them to send this DMCA takedown notice, which they will most likely do, since they don't want papers that they use to sell their journal to be copied.

What will happen is that arXiv will remove the paper and inform the person who put it up there. That person can then give in, or they can inform arXiv that they are the copyright holder (which you know would be a lie). If that happens, you'll have to meet in court. But I doubt that anyone would be so stupid to go to court claiming that they have a copyright on a paper that they just copied.

BTW. That approach wouldn't work if someone truly plagiarises your paper. If I read your paper and then write my own paper copying ever single idea of yours, without any original thought of my own, but rewriting everything in my own words, that would be plagiarism but not copyright infringement.

BTW. If this paper is indeed a copy of yours (not just stealing your results, but stealing your words) then removing it "in a while" is absolutely unacceptable after they receive a DMCA takedown notice. The journal has to remove it immediately or you can sue them for copyright infringement.

  • The paper is exactly similar to mine (they did not even bother to change the words). I shall read up more about this and take further steps today. Thank you for your suggestion – Mega_Noob Nov 13 '15 at 2:17
  • Sorry but what is "exactly similar"? It's either exactly the same or it is (only) similar. If they didn't bother to change the words, then it is the same, and it is copyright infringement. If parts of your paper can be found unchanged, then it is a "derived work", which is still copyright infringement. – gnasher729 Nov 13 '15 at 16:30
  • Sorry for the misunderstanding. In this case, it is the former. The paper is exactly similar i.e. they did not change the words too – Mega_Noob Nov 13 '15 at 16:44
  • 1
    It sounded to me like it's the original paper that was published on arXiv, not the copy. So I don't think arXiv can help here. – Nate Eldredge Nov 13 '15 at 19:42

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.