Suppose some author provides his original research article to a journal for publication. In this way, he is disclosing or revealing his confidential research work to that journal. Now, consider the case that his article gets rejected. So, is it not possible that whoever reviews that article can publish that kind of work and say that it's theirs? Since the original author's work has not been published and he is disclosing his confidential work to somebody, how could the author get assurance that if his article is rejected, his work will not be leaked by the journal staff in any form? What happens if this kind of thing happens?

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    In math at least, you would circulate the preprint (usually on arXiv) before sending it to the journal, and I think in most cases this would suffice to establish priority.
    – tomasz
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 11:32
  • @tomasz Is this established procedure among mathematicians? I heard arXiv.org's standards weren't very high...
    – Klangen
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 13:14
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    @Pickle: Putting a preprint on arXiv? Yes, absolutely. Are the standards of arXiv itself high, in terms on what stuff you can put there? Definitely not. But what does it matter?
    – tomasz
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 20:01

4 Answers 4


It is unlikely that a reviewer or other participant in the peer review process will outright steal the work he/she is reviewing and publish it as original work, because it is easy to get caught.

If the "real" author of the work accuses the thief of plagiarism, the editor of the journal can verify that the work was originally submitted by the "real" author before it was published by the rogue reviewer. (Also see: What to do if a referee plagiarises the result after rejecting a paper?)

If the rogue reviewer is caught, the paper will be retracted (which is damaging to his professional reputation) and there may also be other consequences for the reviewer. See e.g. this recent example.

  • I was looking for this kind of information, thanks.
    – codenext
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 21:24
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    @codenext I'd add to ff524's answer that it is unlikely that a reviewer or other participant in the peer review process will outright steal the work he/she is reviewing and publish it as original work, because they simply have no reason for stealing it: most reaserchers don't lack of ideas, but of time to pursue them. Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 21:50
  • But think a research which is very rare, like Riemann hypothesis, if some armature person or person who is not related to that field solves that or atleast makes some progress on that, and want to publish as independent. Now, this kind of research is very rare and brings big name, so any reviewer can change their mind and play around. So I think there should be some international system to protect work of all authors even their raw work also needs to be protected.
    – codenext
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 22:14
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    @codenext The more attention the work is likely to get, the more dangerous it would be to steal it, since a paper like that would be subject to a lot of scrutiny and the thief would almost certainly be found out. Nevertheless, you may also see Prevent plagiarism after rejection of a paper? and How can I “time-stamp” my data without publishing it?
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 22:22
  • Hhhmm...that is making sense..
    – codenext
    Commented Mar 27, 2016 at 22:24

Let me add to @ff524's excellent answer. If you are paranoid, one way to add an additional safeguard would be to post a preprint on arxiv.org or a similar site. Then you have a public version with a verifiable timestamp, so even if all the journal's staff colluded to steal your idea, you could prove to the community that it was originally yours.

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    Or, if you're really paranoid and want to keep the contents of your paper secret until your big reveal, you could embed its hash in the bitcoin blockchain :)
    – ff524
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 8:03
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    Don't forget the even more time honoured tradition of publishing your abstract as an anagram first... link
    – mlk
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 9:12
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    "You will find that, if you take the second letter in each sentence of the third sub-section of 'Methods', it spells out 'This is mine no stealing'."
    – Fomite
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 18:15
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    I was a reviewer for a journal paper which the editors automatically rejected for having a pre-print on ArXiv. I vehemently disagree with the position of that editor/journal, but it would be a shame to have this happen to you just because you were worried about plagiarism from a reviewer! Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 6:52
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    @WillRobertson If this was in a field where arXiv is common, then the simple solution is to not publish in a journal which is so far behind the times (there will be plenty of good journals to choose from which do allow this). Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 7:25

Here is the advise I got in a creative writing course a while ago:
Print out your article, book draft or whatever. Put it in an envelope and send it to yourself by registered mail (yes good old paper mail). Of course you keep all receipts and administrative documents you get at the post office. Don't open the letter when you receive it.
That gives you a formal and legally binding proof that your text existed at the time you posted it. In case of a formal dispute you have it opened in the presence of notary or whatever legal person can formally confirm the content of the document and the date.

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    Logically, it is making sense. I believe we can do this with electronic mail also.
    – codenext
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 17:44
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    The "poor man's copyright" has no legal effect in the US, and probably many other jurisdictions. (Registered mail shows you sent something, but doesn't date the actual document - you could easily have mailed yourself an empty envelope, steamed it open, and put the document in much later.)
    – ff524
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 10:01
  • @ff524 do the email/private message version, using services like gmail, facebook, have effect in us? as far as i know, it has, i saw a news message that facebook message was accepted as proof by court.
    – qdinar
    Commented May 23, 2018 at 10:40

If you will submit to good leading journals of the field, you shouldn't be bothered by this question. If someone is good enough to be a reviewer, she/he has has the ability to produce respectfully publishable papers, and is likely to be a honest person. Only enclosed minds would do such a thing, anyway. Moreover,the journals keep their correspondence up to 5 years, so a legal process could in principle be done if would be the case.

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