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Misappropriation: Plagiarism and Breaches of Confidentiality 

Misappropriation: Plagiarism and Breaches of Confidentiality
Ethical and Legal Considerations

Annette Flanagin

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Misappropriation: Plagiarism and Breaches of Confidentiality

Misappropriation in scientific publication includes plagiarism and breaches of confidentiality during the privileged review of a manuscript.11-15 (See also 5.7.1, Confidentiality, Confidentiality During Editorial Evaluation and Peer Review and After Publication.) In plagiarism, an author documents or reports ideas, words, data, or graphics, whether published or unpublished, of another as his or her own and without giving appropriate credit.11 Plagiarism of published work violates standards of honesty and collegial trust and may also violate copyright law (if the violation is shown to be legally actionable) (see 5.6.7, Intellectual Property: Ownership, Access, Rights, and Management, Copying, Reproducing, Adapting, and Other Uses of Content).

Four common kinds of plagiarism have been identified16:

  1. 1. Direct plagiarism: Verbatim lifting of passages without enclosing the borrowed material in quotation marks and crediting the original author.

  2. 2. Mosaic: Borrowing the ideas and opinions from an original source and a few verbatim words or phrases without crediting the original author. In this case, the plagiarist intertwines his or her own ideas and opinions with those of the original author, creating a “confused, plagiarized mass.”

  3. 3. Paraphrase: Restating a phrase or passage, providing the same meaning but in a different form without attribution to the original author.

  4. 4. Insufficient acknowledgment: Noting the original source of only part of what is borrowed or failing to cite the source material in a way that allows the reader to know what is original and what is borrowed.

The common characteristic of these kinds of plagiarism is the failure to attribute words, ideas, or findings to their true authors, whether or not the original work has been published. Such failure to acknowledge a source properly may on occasion be caused by careless note taking or ignorance of the canons of research and authorship. The best defense against allegations of plagiarism is careful note taking, record keeping, and documentation of all data observed and sources used. Those who review manuscripts that are similar to their own unpublished work may be especially at risk for charges of plagiarism. Reviewers who foresee such a potential conflict of interest should consider returning the manuscript to the editor without reviewing it. This recommendation may be stipulated in the letter that accompanies each manuscript sent for review (see 5.5.6, Conflicts of Interest, Requirements for Peer Reviewers, and 6.0, Editorial Assessment and Processing). Some have reported that the internet and subsequent rapid and widespread dissemination of findings and publications has resulted in an increase in plagiarism; however, the same technology as well as antiplagiarism software may now give editors and publishers better tools to detect plagiarism in submitted papers.17,18

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