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Durga Prasanna Misra1 , Vinod Ravindran2

Author Affiliations: 
Correspondence to: 

Vinod Ravindran, Centre for Rheumatology, Calicut, Kerala, India


Journal Issue: 
Volume 50: Issue 1: 2020
Cite paper as: 
J R Coll Physicians Edinb 2020; 50: 3-5



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Scientific writing, like any other form of publishing, must conform to the preservation of intellectual property rights (IPR). Copyright refers to the preservation of IPR in matters related to authorship. It is important for prospective authors to understand the principles of copyright preservation in order to safeguard against inadvertent violations of the same (with resultant moral, ethical and legal consequences), as well as to preserve their IPR related to their own work.1 In this editorial we have discussed copyright and potential violations of this concept, including plagiarism, duplicate publications, redundant publications and ‘Salami’ publications.

Copyright for published content may rest with the authors, as often occurs when such work has been published as open access,2 or with the journals or their publishers. The easiest way to identify the copyright holder is to search for the sign ‘©‘, which generally denotes the copyright holder. Whenever one seeks to reproduce previously published content it is mandatory to seek permission from the copyright holders. If the authors hold the copyright, then they may be contacted and written permission must be sought from them. If the copyright rests with the journal or publisher, then one must check the website of the published content for information regarding seeking permission to reproduce the content. Many international journals have a link to an external website, such as Rightslink, where the process of seeking of such permission is automated with a series of drop-down menus guiding the authors and informing them of the costs to be incurred as the case may be.3,4 Generally, academic and not-for-profit reproduction of content incur no significant charges. If such a link is not provided at the journal website, then the editorial office of the journal may be contacted to seek such permission from the Editor-in-Chief or owner of the journal as appropriate.

It is important for authors to understand that any reproduction of the content, whether a verbatim reproduction of words (enclosed inside quotes) or tables or figures (or adoption of parts thereof), must be done only after obtaining explicit permission from the copyright holder. In addition, the source of such material should clearly be mentioned at the site (such as text, tables or figures) where it is reproduced. Failure to observe such precautions may potentially result in litigation (from the copyright holder) or rejection of such manuscripts from journals where such content has been submitted for publication, or retraction of such manuscripts from the published literature, if detected after publication.5

Plagiarism refers to the practice of misappropriating the content, text or ideas of someone else as one’s own. Such content is often reproduced without proper attribution to its source. Plagiarism is a serious academic offence and should be avoided. Journals now routinely check for content similarity of submitted manuscripts via tools such as iThenticate. Therefore, to avoid this misconduct it is best to attribute any material to its original source and use one’s own language while writing rather than borrowing words or phrases from other’s work.6,7 An ethically grey area is self-plagiarism, which refers to ‘plagiarising’ text from one’s own previous work.8 In this context, it is important to understand the status of copyright of one’s own published work. If one has transferred copyright to the journal or publisher, then it is essential to seek permission to reproduce such text even if one is the original author of such work. This may not hold true if the copyright for such work rests with the authors themselves.5

Duplicate publications may be intentional, to artificially inflate the number of one’s publications, or accidental, resulting from duplicate publication of a manuscript by a journal. Intentionally duplicate submissions result in rejection of manuscript and in retraction if it is identified after publication. Journals would also normally retract accidental duplicate publications and in these scenarios no blame is associated towards the authors. Sometimes, papers may be published with identical content in two languages, often in English and a regional language, particularly in the case of regional journals, and this practice is considered acceptable.9-11 The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors recognises the practice of simultaneous publication of landmark manuscripts, such as trans-society classification criteria or management guidelines for diseases in two or more different journals.

Redundant publications refers to publishing similar content to that already described in the literature, or previously published by the same authors.11 Redundant publications may be more difficult to identify, requiring effort from reviewers and editors. Often, such redundant publications are rejected, unless there exists a compelling reason to repeat such studies as in the case of clinical equipoise, or the use of a newer or better methodology to conduct the study. If such a reason exists, it should be transparently declared in the covering letter accompanying the submission, clearly identifying the prior publication in question.9-11

An emerging issue is that of duplicate images in scientific papers. There may be a temptation for authors to repeat images of laboratory tests, such as Western blots. Such practices of not adequately referencing the previous publication should be cautioned against. Currently, technology has the capacity to detect such duplicate images using automated software, and may result in rejections or retractions.12

‘Salami’ slicing refers to the practice of inappropriately splitting research into multiple publications, when a single publication could logically reflect the entire content. For example, a researcher may have evaluated five biomarkers in a particular disease setting using the same patient population with similar follow-up duration. ‘Salami’ slicing would be publishing this work as five different papers, whereas the entire work could be coherently published as one paper. Such practices are often intended to artificially inflate publication numbers, are considered unethical and should be discouraged.13

In conclusion, it is important for all stakeholders, such as editors, reviewers and authors, to be aware regarding publication misconducts related to copyright and its violation. We have summarised these misconducts in Figure 1. Authors as the first point must avoid falling prey to these publication misconducts.


Figure 1 Various types of publication misconduct resulting from violation of copyright. The figure in the centre represents the original (source) manuscript; each manuscript is identified by the colour of the rectangle encasing it, and the symbols inside represent the content. (a) Plagiarism would imply verbatim reproduction of parts of the manuscript within another one. (b) Duplicate publications are verbatim reproductions of the entire source manuscript. (c) Redundant publications may expand, or omit, certain portions of the manuscript, though the message remains essentially the same. (d) ‘Salami’ slicing refers to the splitting up of the source manuscript into multiple (here, seven) different manuscript
when in fact all of this could have been included in a single manuscript


1 What is copyright? (accessed 04/01/20).

2 Misra DP, Agarwal V. Open access publishing in India: coverage, relevance, and future perspectives. J Korean Med Sci 2019; 34: e180.

3 Using Rightslink for permissions. (accessed 04/01/20).

4 Rode SM, Pennisi PRC, Beaini TL et al. Authorship, plagiarism, and copyright transfer in the scientific universe. Clinics (Sao Paulo) 2019; 74: e1312.

5 LaVelle MB, LaVelle BE, Port KL et al. Copyright law basics for the nursing professional: part 1: using the work of others. J Nurses Prof Dev 2015; 31: 252–57; quiz E258.

6 Misra DP, Ravindran V et al. Plagiarism: software-based detection and the importance of (human) hardware. Indian J Rheumatol 2017; 12: 188–9.

7 Gasparyan AY, Nurmashev B, Seksenbayev B et al. Plagiarism in the context of education and evolving detection strategies. J Korean Med Sci  2017; 32: 1220–7.

8 Winsett RP. The importance of self-plagiarism in publication. Prog Transplant 2017; 27: 327–8.

9 Honeyman-Buck J. Redundant publication-how to avoid duplication. J Digital Imaging 2016; 29: 1–2.

10 Berstad AE. Duplicate publications: attack of the clones. Acta radiologica 2016; 57: 775–6.

11 International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) guidelines 2019. (accessed 04/01/20).

12 Butler D. Researchers have finally created a tool to spot duplicated images across thousands of papers. Nature 2018; 555: 18.

13 Supak Smolcic V. Salami publication: definitions and examples. Biochem Med 2013; 23: 237–41.



Financial and Competing Interests: 
DPM is Associate Editor of the Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (JRCPE), and serves as editor/editorial board member/reviewer for several other international journals. VR is the Editor-in-Chief of the JRCPE and serves as editor/editorial board member/reviewer for several other international journals. This paper has undergone peer review in accordance with JRCPE’s policies.