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I have recently discovered that several of my papers have been plagiarized in order to create one paper, and that this paper has been published at a conference. I informed the organizers of the conference and the editor, and there is now notice of violation attached to the online version of this paper, so this problem has been solved.

However, I came to know this paper only by accident (someone contacted my co-author, and told him that this paper looked a lot like ours), and potentially, we could have missed it. So my question is: are there some techniques I could use to detect such cases?

I don't think that it's possible to detect all cases in general (because sometimes, it can be hard to distinguish between inspiration and plagiarism, and I would actually be quite glad with being a source of inspiration) but can I at least detect the most blatant ones? (in this particular example, 3/4 of the paper was actually a copy/paste from ours, and they were citing some of our other papers).

Note that as a completely childish and probably useless reaction, I've actually stopped putting my papers on my webpage. I doubt it can solve the problem though, but at least I felt like doing something :)

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    Don't shoot yourself in the foot because someone else was dishonest. If you want your work to be cited, or if you eventually want a faculty job, you must put your papers on the web. – JeffE Mar 13 '12 at 23:58
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    Choose some key terms that can only be found in your paper and use a search engine to look for them. Try not to use words in the title or in the abstract of your paper. But, as eykanal mentioned, this will not find papers behind paywalls. – Joel Reyes Noche Mar 14 '12 at 0:50
  • Actually when I am asked to review a paper, I am always given some sort of reviewer's tool that finds the similarities with existing papers. I think this takes into account the papers behind paywalls. – Gopi Mar 14 '12 at 3:44
  • @JeffE Yes, you're right, I'm now realising it was not only useless, but also probably harmful! (although I was considering that most papers are available through the editor website). I'm going to put them back (and actually, I guess it will be my next question: what kind of tool exist to manage a bibliography online :)). – user102 Mar 14 '12 at 8:31
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    @Gopi Would you have by chance some references about the tool you're mentioning? I've never seen one when reviewing. – user102 Mar 14 '12 at 8:34
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I'd argue that you shouldn't worry too much about preventing plagiarism of your papers. At least in the areas I'm familiar with (math and theoretical CS), it's extremely unlikely to do you much harm.

To be clear, I'm talking about wholesale plagiarism of written text. There can be much trickier situations - for example, if your rival learns an idea from you in a private conversation and then claims you learned it from him - but that's a subject for another question.

Plagiarism happens all the time, on a massive scale, but you don't see it very often because it takes place at the margins: usually in junk journals or conferences, and occasionally in solid but low-prestige venues. This is by design, since plagiarists know that if they attract too much attention, they'll get caught. Nobody submits a plagiarized paper hoping to get lots of citations. Instead, they just want credit for having published something, usually because of some external pressure.

One fear people sometimes have is of being caught in an ambiguous situation, where it's not completely clear who the plagiarist is. In the areas I'm familiar with, this never happens. The community is always quite sure of who is to blame, and as far as I can tell they are always right. This is a valid worry in principle, but it's not worth losing sleep over.

Another fear is that the plagiarist will attract attention and citations that should have gone to your paper. As I mentioned above, that's not likely. These papers are typically almost unnoticed, and if they do get noticed, then that's just a prelude to getting caught.

Plagiarism is still a serious problem, and plagiarists are cheating the system, but in the fields I'm talking about, they are generally not specifically hurting the authors they are copying from.

Putting your papers online makes it slightly easier to plagiarize them, but it's not really contributing much to the problem, since there are so many possible sources. (There has even been a paper plagiarized from an advertisement for a consulting firm! See http://www.siam.org/journals/plagiary/index.php. It's amazing how much garbage there is out there, and how unscrupulous some authors are.)

Instead, making your papers as visible and accessible as possible makes it more likely that plagiarists will be caught. And, of course, this is in addition to all the other benefits of making it easy to read your papers.

Vanity googling can also help: I periodically do searches for topics I care about, or to see who is citing my papers, and I've caught several plagiarists that way.

The arXiv flags papers whose text overlaps nontrivially with a previous paper. This means in fields where arXiv use is widespread, plagiarists can't get away with using the arXiv, so they are further marginalized.

Unfortunately, after plagiarism is discovered, there is little or nothing you can do to ensure that the plagiarist is punished. Reputable conferences or journals will investigate the situation and flag or withdraw the paper; less reputable ones will ignore you and hope you quit asking about it, although they will sometimes act if you publicize it enough. The plagiarist's employer probably won't do anything, no matter how serious the case is. What I'd recommend is that you try to correct the literature, and report the incident to the plagiarist's employer (assuming the paper was published as part of their job), but not worry too much about getting any action from the employer. If pursuing the case further would give you some satisfaction, then that's a good reason to do it, but don't do it with the expectation of concrete results. If you're lucky, you'll get a letter explaining that something awkward might or might not have happened, that everyone involved is very sorry for any hurt feelings, that whatever did happen wasn't really anyone's fault, but that it won't happen again. (Sadly, it often does.)

  • Thanks for the detailed answer! I guess you're right when saying that the impact is actually quite limited (it's even a bit positive, as it shows that my work was interesting enough to be plagiarized! :)). – user102 Apr 18 '12 at 22:05
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    Yup, someone is being hurt (for example, people competing against the plagiarist for jobs or status), but it generally isn't the author of the original paper. And it can also be a badge of honor: when people are discussing plagiarism, you can chime in with "Yeah, I hate it when people plagiarize my papers" and someone is sure to wonder enviously why nobody plagiarizes their papers. :-) – Anonymous Mathematician Apr 18 '12 at 22:35
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You've handled the conference plagiarism very well.

But then you say you've stopped putting your papers on your website: and I'm afraid that that is completely counter-productive.

It would be far more helpful for editors, reviewers and publishers to have your papers on your website, indexed by all the usual search bots, and clearly copyrighted and time-stamped. That makes it easier for them to spot duplicate content, early on.

The point of publishing your work is to get it disseminated. Very many journals allow authors to host preprints or similar on their own university web pages: do so. Get your stuff circulated as widely as possible. That gives you the best chance of other plagiarism of your work being spotted early on, in the future.

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    Thanks, you're making a fair point, that joins Jeff and Ran's answers. So I guess I'm putting back my papers on my webpage (they were available through paywalls and old webpages anyway) – user102 Mar 14 '12 at 8:44
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I would even say post your work on some kind of arXiv as soon as you can. My reasons are:

  1. You might be lucky, and the reviewer will actually find it, and catch the dishonesty early (I always try to google related works when I get a review request).
  2. if your work is there for a while, it has more chance that people saw it and affiliate that result with you, thus recognizing the plagiarizing work as such.
  3. You have a date-stamp. With such a time-stamp it'd be easier to claim that your work (publicly) appeared before the time that the other work was submitted/conceived.

The interesting question is, whether you should cite the other work in your "related work" segment, and claim it to be plagiarism?! (:

  • Thanks for the answer! Well, in this case, the plagiarized work was already published, so somehow I already had the visibility/date-stamp point. But it's clear that I should ease the process for reviewers/editor to detect a plagiarism (and that joins Jeff & EnergyNumbers point). – user102 Mar 14 '12 at 8:37
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Unfortunately, this is not really a problem you can solve yourself. There are simply too many journals behind individual paywalls (sometimes even in different languages) for you to be able to monitor this sort of thing by yourself.

On more of a philosophical note, I would argue that it's the responsibility of the journal editors to ensure that the papers they choose to publish are not plagarized from other works. They are the only ones who can really prevent it, as they are the ones who actually publish the papers; you, the author, reader, and sometimes reviewer, are just a consumer of their publication. Teachers and professors have access to resources such as TurnItIn.com; I'm not familiar with such a resource for academics, but I would definitely argue that it is the responsibility of the journals to ensure that every paper they publish is genuinely novel research. (This is not to say that the author has no responsibility; of course every researcher should publish ethically.)

  • Yes, I agree with you that it should be the responsibility of the editors, and that there is not so much I can do myself, but I was wondering if there at least something I could try :) But it would definitely be great for reviewers to have an equivalent of the feature "Questions with similar titles" of SE :) – user102 Mar 14 '12 at 8:41
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    I would add that expensive publishers like Elsevier claim that they do check for plagiarism of the papers they publish, and that this is one of the reasons they are expensive and they claim copyright. @Charles Morisset: where your plagiarized paper published by a big publisher? It would be interesting to see how supported the above claims are. – Benoît Kloeckner May 27 '12 at 18:00
  • @BenoîtKloeckner It was published by IEEE, which is pretty big in CS. – user102 May 29 '12 at 14:55
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When reviewing a paper via the EDAS portal, you can always look at the similarity score with other papers. in order to compute this similarity score, the use the iThenticate software.

I have also seen the CrossCheck software, but I cannot remember where or when (note that it is also powered by iThenticate).

I guess all these softwares can be used for individuals. As long as you pay...

protected by eykanal Aug 10 '12 at 12:22

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