Prior publication and repository deposit

We’ve had a couple of instances recently where unpublished conference items deposited in ORO were subsequently submitted to a journal (both Springer journals) only to be rejected due to “textual overlap” with the item in ORO.  This “textual overlap” was detected by automatic plagiarism software (like ithenticate) which contains an index of both published works and web pages.  Authors should be aware that submitted papers will quite likely be checked by anti-plagiarism software – and clearly content from institutional repositories (at least ORO!) is indexed by them.

The publisher’s rationale is that making the full text freely available in ORO constitutes prior publication and therefore the submission was rejected.  However this is not consistent.  One of our OU authors stated We get mixed signals from journals as there are some who don’t have a problem with the article being on ORO”. And in this instance once the item was taken down from ORO the paper was successfully re-submitted.

We don’t want anyone’s publication career to be jeopardized by depositing papers in ORO so we’ve added an FAQ to our help pages – if you are considering submitting something to a journal don’t put the full text of it in ORO until the publication venue has been secured.

However, it’s worth exploring this in a little more depth.  First, let’s get a couple of definitions – both from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) website.

  • Self-plagiarism’/text recycling (submitted article) – Reusing one’s own previous writing without being transparent about this or appropriately referencing/quoting from the original.
  • Prior publication – Where a journal considers posting of data or a preprint before submission as ‘publication’, and which will therefore exclude those items from subsequent submission to the journal. Grey and rapidly changing area, varies greatly from journal to journal.

So in our case it seems the journal considers that deposit in ORO constitutes prior publication and that this is a (g)rey and rapidly changing area, varies greatly from journal to journal”.

So is deposit in ORO publication?  Well yes in a way,  we are making something publicly available. However, there are key publishing functions institutional repositories do not undertake: we don’t do editorial selection, we don’t manage peer review, we don’t copy edit or type set, we don’t print, we don’t do marketing… we barely do any of the 96 things publishers do!

Moreover, the whole concept and existence of preprints (where papers are made public to “quickly circulate current results within a scholarly community“)  seems to run counter to this interpretation of “prior publication”.  In many disciplines ‘publishing’ a preprint on a preprint server (or subject repository) and final publication in a journals is the modus operandi.  So, I’d question whether deposit in an institutional repository really does constitute prior publication.

However, reluctantly, I’ve put up our FAQ

Other useful reading:

Possible self-plagiarism and/or prior publication, The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).  This case was similar to our one but indicates initial posting was done on an individual website not an institutional repository.

Plagiarism detection by Publishers, Imperial College Library

About Chris

Chris looks after Open Research Online (ORO) on a day to day basis. He has worked in this role since 2011 and can advise on using ORO to maximise dissemination of research outputs and Open Access publishing generally.
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