Authorship, Ownership and Plagiarism: How to Prevent, Manage and Report Problems

Emilia Chiscop-Head, PhD, Scientific Integrity Associate, ASIST
Experts discuss best practices at our March 26 Town Hall, attended by over 180 researchers


”Most authorship disputes occur where authorship was not discussed and agreed to during the research process”

10% of the research misconduct complaints at Duke University are related to plagiarism, but authorship is also a very common reason for academic disagreements.  Duke experts in authorship, plagiarism, copyright and text recycling discussed during our most recent town hall common authorship and plagiarism problems, and how to prevent them. ”Most authorship disputes occur where authorship was not discussed and agreed to during the research process. Most of the complaints received by COPE come from researchers who thought they understood how they would be recognized as authors and were not”, said Deborah Poff, PHD, Chair of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) who summarized some of the biggest problems in authorship and plagiarism as well as the different criteria for authorship among publishers, disciplines and academic cultures. “Many publication organizations stipulate criteria for authorship as well as other forms of recognition. Most stipulate a substantive contribution and shared responsibility for the publication”, she added.  

Insights from the Duke Authorship Disputes Board

What happens when an authorship disagreement occurs? Donna Kessler, PhD, Research Misconduct Review Officer at the Duke Office of Scientific Integrity, explained the process: “If potential authors cannot come to an agreement, assistance can be requested through the departmental research quality team (RQT), Chair, and/or the Dean. In cases where resolution at the local level is not successful, the Duke Authorship Dispute Board can take up the matter.” Kessler added. The Authorship Board (composed of one chair and three faculty members jointly appointed by the provost and the dean of the School of Medicine, then approved by the Executive Committee of the Academic Council) is requesting statements from both parties, reviews the materials, deliberates and votes upon the final decision. Very important is that all statements and materials are kept confidential. After the vote, the board submits a report and its final recommendation to the VP for Research. “If the matter is taken to the Board with the mutual agreement of all parties, the decision of the Board will be binding on all parties. If not, the Board’s decision is not binding, but the Board’s written recommendation will be provided to all parties and can be made public by any of the parties involved.” Deborah Muoio, PhD, Chair of the Duke Authorship Board, explained.

Dave Hansen, Associate University Librarian for Research, Collections & Scholarly Communications at Duke, touched on the connection between authorship, copyright and plagiarism. “A first take away is that copyright law does not care about attribution. There is no framework to address plagiarism in the US”, Hansen said – however, “you can use copyright to demand attribution in some cases”.

“Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit. If it is knowing, intentional, or reckless, it is research misconduct,” Kessler said. She added that a plagiarism verdict is given when someone copied substantially someone else’s work without being authorized to do so or giving credit to the author. When this happens, the reader is misled about the true contributions of the author. 

Better cite than sorry

I order to avoid plagiarism, Kessler advised researchers to remember three words used in plagiarism prevention workshops: Quote, Cite, and/or Reference  (QCR)[1]. In other words, if you ever have “the plagiarist’s dilemma: to cite or not to cite?” the unanimous answer conveyed during our town hall was better cite than sorry. Donna Kessler reminded the audience that Duke made available to the entire Duke community a tool to identify duplicated text which could potentially be diagnosed as plagiarism. “iThenticate can serve as both a teaching tool and a preventative measure to help ensure research manuscripts, grant applications, and scholarly documents appropriately cite/quote/reference before submission to journals, funding agencies, and academic repositories.”, Kessler added.

Cary Moskovitz redefines and sets up boundaries for text recycling

Cary Moskovitz, PhD, Professor of the Practice in the Thompson Writing Program and Principal Investigator, The Text Recycling Research Project (funded by the National Science Foundation), explained the difference between plagiarism and text recycling—a common and  controversial practice which is often called by the problematic term “self-plagiarism.” In order to bring some light in the confusion and inconsistency of norms and terms used in the publishing world, Moskovitz and his research team developed a new definition for text recycling: “Text recycling is the reuse of textual material (prose, visuals, or equations) in a new document where the following conditions are met: a) the material in the new document is identical to that of the source (or substantively equivalent in both form and content); b)  the material is not presented in the new document as a quotation (via quotation marks or block indentation), and c) at least one author of the new document is also an author of the prior document.” The Text Recycling Project encourages researchers who recycle text to be transparent with both editors and readers. “Is it OK to recycle the method section without citation?” asked a member of the audience. “If you are reusing some part of the method section for producing new work, most often this is considered appropriate. But remember, if you do it transparently – meaning that you cite your prior work and add a description of what is reused – the editor can make sure that what you do follows their guidelines. There are publishers that state that the reuse of the method section is acceptable,” Moskovitz answered, with Kessler adding “The Devil is in the details.”

Another participant asked about reusing text in successive papers where only one author is the same. “We looked at this authorship issue quite extensively. Especially in science and medicine, reusing work from previous publication is common. When work is coming from the same lab and with the same PI, this falls within the acceptable norm,” Moskovitz said. “From a legal perspective, the default is that each co-author can use or authorize re-use of their work as they wish,” Hansen added. 

A new challenge in research publishing: the inflation of the “paper mills”

Besides plagiarism and text recycling, another ethical problem in the publishing world was emphasized by Poff: the inflation of the “paper mills”. The term is used to describe papers produced on demand and sold to faculty who need them for academic advancement but have no time for doing the actual research. In order to strengthen the integrity of the publication process and increase the collaboration between universities and publishers, COPE created a new University membership where publishers, editors and universities come together to create a feedback loop and inform each other on publication integrity issues. “When an editor finds something serious that leads them to believe that significant misconduct occurred in the research, the practice is to contact the university, explain the issue and request an investigation. The investigation, from the perspective of the editor, frequently enters a black box. Whatever the university is doing either to investigate or not, communication back to the editor frequently does not occur. When COPE was describing this in presentations made to university, the universities had their own complaints about the lack of responsiveness of journal editors when they believed an article should be retracted.” Poff explained. Therefore, COPE is producing a first online course on publication practices, to address a common problem identified by universities during a feasibility study that COPE conducted.

Publications and other documents produced by the Text Recycling Research Project are available at


How to Recycle Appropriately[2]

“Authors should recycle text where consistency of language is needed for accurate communication.

Authors should not recycle text to mislead readers or editors about the novelty of the new work or to inflate their record of productivity. Authors may recycle text as long as the recycled material is accurate and appropriate for the new work. Authors should not rewrite or reword material to disguise recycled material or to avoid flagging by plagiarism detection software.”


How to Recycle Transparently[3]:

“Authors should inform editors about the presence of recycled material upon submission.  Authors should inform readers by including a statement notifying readers that the document contains recycled material.  If the authors of the new work are not identical to those of the prior work, the corresponding author of the new work should obtain permission (if corr. author is different).”


How to Recycle Legally[4]

“For most unpublished work, authors hold copyright. Generally depends on copyright law and any author-publisher contract signed for the source document. If the amount of type of recycling that seems right to you exceeds what copyright law and your contract would allow, get permission.”


When Authorship Must Be Granted[5]

“Authorship is restricted to individuals who made a significant contribution to the conception and design of the project, the analysis and interpretation of the data, or other substantial scholarly effort.

The contributors should participate in drafting, reviewing, and/or revising the manuscript/work and approving the final version for publication.”


How to Prevent Authorship Problems[6]:

Communicate regularly during the conduct of the research project about authorship matters and related questions of attribution/acknowledgment and intellectual credit.

Claim authorship in publications correctly in your CV and Biosketch (including authorship order) and keep the following in mind:

  • Funding agencies and other entities review these for accuracy, and a complaint about possible misconduct can arise if inaccuracies are found
  • Submitting false information in a grant application (request for funds) to the federal government may be considered possible research misconduct and/or fraud

How to Report Plagiarism[7]:

“For a concern about potential plagiarism, contact the Research Integrity Officer,

For a concern about authorship that cannot be resolved within the school, department or unit, contact the chair of the Authorship Dispute Board.

To report an integrity concern anonymously, call the integrity line at 1-800-826-8109.  The call will not be traced.  You do not need to provide your name. 

You can also submit an anonymous concern online using the Speak Up form at

[1] Scott Moore, NSF, To Cite or not To Cite: The Plagiarist’s Dilemma; 5.8.2013 Presentation, Colorado State University, Plagiarism Workshop.

[2] Cary Moskovitz, Presentation on Text Recycling, March 26, 2021, Duke University Research Town Hall “Authorship, Ownership and Plagiarism”

[3] Cary Moskovitz, Presentation on Text Recycling, March 26, 2021, Duke University Research Town Hall “Authorship, Ownership and Plagiarism”

[4] Cary Moskovitz, Presentation on Text Recycling, March 26, 2021, Duke University Research Town Hall “Authorship, Ownership and Plagiarism”

[5] Donna Kessler, Presentation on Authorship and Plagiarism, March 26, 2021, Duke University Research Town Hall “Authorship, Ownership and Plagiarism”

[6] Donna Kessler, Presentation on Authorship and Plagiarism, March 26, 2021, Duke University Research Town Hall “Authorship, Ownership and Plagiarism”

[7] Donna Kessler, Presentation on Authorship and Plagiarism, March 26, 2021, Duke University Research Town Hall “Authorship, Ownership and Plagiarism”