Text and Data Duplication in Scholarly Publishing: Home

What's the difference between copyright ownership, infringement, plagiarism, and so-called 'self-plagiarism'? This guide discusses these topics, provides possible definitions as well as guidelines and resources for more information.

Concepts and Possible Definitions

Think of it as Old vs. New Scholarship

There is no dictionary definition of 'text duplication,' 'data duplication,' or 'self-plagiarism,' but there are many thoughts, opinions, and general guidelines on these concepts. The core of the matter has to do with the generation and communication of new knowledge ('new' being the operative word). The idea of duplicating or reusing one's own words or data in a new publication can be seen as, simply, not new or original. In other words, it has already been communicated. Synthesis of existing text might be useful at times depending on the type of work (such as a systematic review or meta-analysis) and the discipline's broader literature. Reducing one's work to what some publishers call "the least publishable unit" can lead to over-partitioning of a larger data set, concept, or research idea. Whether or not over-partitioning is seen as an issue depends on the culture within a discipline and especially the culture of a journal's editorial team. The consistent concern across all disciplines comes down to unacknowledged and unnecessary recycling. The utilitarian question to consider might then become, 'How will a discipline progress if scholars simply recycle what they have said before?' The ethical question to consider might be, "Am I misrepresenting an old idea as a new one?"  

It's Not About Copyright or Plagiarism

Text or data duplication has less to do with copyright ownership or infringement--which is the legal right to copy, distribute, display, adapt, and/or perform a work--and more to do with conscientiously advancing a discipline by means of the scholarly communication system. Depending on the rights surrounding the work, you could very well have the legal right to copy or distribute it, but some might ask (such as journal and book editors), should you do this even if you have the legal right? This question gets at the heart of the underlying issue of whether or not text and data duplication are in the interest of the larger scholarly discipline or academic institution in which the author operates and serves. In addition, text or data duplication has almost nothing to do with the standard definition of plagiarism--appropriating someone else's ideas or words as your own. Obviously, the words are your own, so the term 'plagiarism' misses the mark. While describing the activity as 'self-plagiarism' might address the lack of attribution that can accompany an act of text or data duplication, it falls short of fully defining the matter. Matters of copyright are a separate but highly relevant concern in a situation of duplicate reporting and text recycling. For further information on copyright, please see Marriott Library's Copyright Overview & Resources 

I would argue that the definition lies somewhere in between and has mostly to do with personal ethics and acceptable behavior within the broader communities of discipline-based research, scholarly publishing, and academic institutions. 

Some Definitions from Editorials, Journal Articles, and Blogs

From Merle Rosenweig and Anna Schnitzer: "Duplicate publication, sometimes called self-plagiarism, occurs when an author reuses substantial parts of his or her own published work without providing the appropriate references." 

From the Committee on Publication Ethics: "Text recycling, also known as self-plagiarism, is when sections of the same text appear in more than one of an author’s own publications."

From Steven Bird and Marco Sivilotti: "The most common method of self-plagiarism is text reuse or text recycling, defined as the reuse of one’s previously published work..."

From the American Psychological Association (6th edition): "Just as researchers do not present the work of others as their own (plagiarism), they do not present their own previously published work as new scholarship (self-plagiarism)."

U of U Research Handbook

Chapter 2.3 Scientific Misconduct

"All members of the faculty are expected to conduct their research and publish the results of that research with the highest standards of ethical conduct, truth and accuracy."

U of U Faculty and Student Codes of Conduct

U of U Faculty Code

"When reporting the results of their research or professional activities, faculty members must be honest in the presentation of the data and in the description of the work."

U of U Student Code

"Misrepresenting one's work includes, but is not limited to, representing material prepared by another as one's own work, or submitting the same work in more than one course without prior permission of both faculty members."

U of U Policy on Copyright Ownership

Faculty

"The principal mission of the University is the creation and dissemination of knowledge. Therefore, the University transfers to the Creators any copyrights that it may own in a traditional scholarly Work created by University faculty members that result from teaching, research, scholarly or artistic endeavors, regardless of the medium in which the Work is expressed, unless the Work was developed with substantial use of university resources and commercial use is made of the Work."

Students

"...students are the Owners of the copyright of Works for which academic credit is received, including theses, dissertations, scholarly publications, texts, pedagogical materials or other materials."

General Guidelines

The most obvious way of dealing with the issue is to always write something original and unique to you and the context you are in. Many of us find ourselves communicating an area of expertise to many different audiences (i.e. peers, students, the general public) and in a variety of formats and venues such as lectures, conference presentations, journal articles, blog posts, scholarly books, etc. It's certainly realistic that some content will get repeated. The guiding principle would be, in my opinion, to remain upfront about where your ideas have been communicated or published before. It's especially important to relay this information to journal editors and book publishers. 

U of U Nursing Informatics Professor Dr. Mollie Cummins also provides the following guidleines:

  • Outline each planned manuscript
  • Review each outline to determine if they are substantially different
  • Play close attention to 
    • Purpose/Objective
    • Research Questions
    • Specific Results

Other helpful documents include:

University of Utah Research Handbook (linked to and highlighted on the left) 

University of Utah Faculty and Student Codes (also linked to and highlighted on the left)

University of Utah Policy on Research Misconduct (linked to and highlighted below)

University of Utah Copyright Ownership Policy (linked to and highlighted on the left)

Guidelines from The Committee on Publication Ethics (also highlighted below)

U of U Policy on Research Misconduct

Policy for Research Misconduct

  • "Misconduct" or "Misconduct in Research" means fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, or other practices that seriously deviate from those practices that are commonly accepted within the research community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research. It does not include honest error or honest difference in interpretations or judgments of data.
    1. Fabrication is making up results and recording or reporting the fabricated results.
    2. Falsification is manipulating research materials, equipment, or processes, or changing or omitting data or results such that the research is not accurately represented in the research record.
    3. Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person's ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit and without specific approval, including those obtained through confidential review of others' research proposals and manuscripts.

 

The Committee on Publication Ethics' (COPE) Text Recycling Guidelines for Journal Editors

"Text recycling can take many forms, and editors should consider which parts of the text have been recycled. Duplication of data is likely to always be considered serious (and should be dealt with according to the COPE guidelines for duplicate publications [1,2]. Use of similar or identical phrases in methods sections where there are limited ways to describe a common method, however, is not uncommon. In such cases, an element of text recycling is likely to be unavoidable in further publications using the same method. Editors should use their discretion when deciding how much overlap of methods text is acceptable, considering factors such as whether authors have been transparent and stated that the methods have already been described in detail elsewhere and provided a citation. Duplication of background ideas in the introduction may be considered less significant than duplication of the hypothesis, discussion, or conclusions.

When significant overlap is identified between two or more articles, editors should consider taking action. Several factors may need to be taken into account when deciding whether the overlap is considered significant."

Guide Author and Editor

Allyson Mower
Contact:
Scholarly Communications & Copyright Librarian
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