The Ethics of Republishing: A Case Study of Emerald/MCB University Press Journals

Article excerpt

Publishing a journal article without citing the original source is considered unethical in the scholarly community. Simple keyword searching of Emerald (formerly MCB University Press) online journals from the publisher's Web site has identified 409 examples of articles from 67 journals that were republished without such notification from 1989 through 2003. Many of these articles were published simultaneously in journals within the same or similar subject disciplines. Five examples of triple publication were identified. In several cases, neither the editor nor editorial board members had knowledge of this practice. This paper will review the conditions of acceptable republishing plus document and provide examples of republication. It will discuss implications on the publication of record, and question whether this is a case of "let the buyer beware."


Redundant publication has been described as "self-serving, wasteful, buses the volunteer time of peer reviewers, and can be profoundly misleading." (1) It is especially disapproved of when done covertly.

Search engines have made it much easier to locate information--they have also made locating instances of unethical publishing behavior easier. A full-text search of a colleague's name in Emerald's database provided the first example of an article that was published without explicit notification in two separate journals. Simple keyword title searching has led the author to more than four hundred examples of this behavior in sixty-seven of one publisher's journals, taking place over a period of at least fifteen years. The publisher (Emerald, formerly MCB University Press) states that it has ceased the practice of article duplication.

Libraries spend considerable sums of money to purchase academic journals. Skyrocketing journal inflation coupled with stagnant acquisitions budgets have resulted in massive cancellation in our libraries. The results of this research suggest that libraries collectively may have spent vast sums of money on duplicated materials from Emerald and did not know it. Furthermore, the presence of undocumented duplicated articles in the literature poses the problem of identifying the original publication of record. These articles cannot simply be unpublished or deleted from the academic literature--they are part of the permanent record of scholarship.

The goal of this paper is to document one publisher's republishing practice and to use this example as a means of educating the publishing industry and alert the library community about unacceptable publishing practices. This provides an opportunity to review what connotes ethical republishing in order to avoid future occurrences of this kind.

Literature Review: The Ethics of Republishing

The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) defines redundant publication when "two or more papers, without full cross reference, share the same hypothesis, data, discussion points, or conclusions." (2) Exact duplication, the focus of this paper, is a specific and rare type of redundant publication. Von Elm et al. found only a small percentage of duplicates in the medical literature be exact copies. (3) In his article, "Multiple Publication Reconsidered," Fulda argues that limited use of multiple publication is acceptable given that the following conditions are met:

1. Article republication only takes place in journals representing different subject fields.

2. The editor of the second journal knows of its prior publication.

3. Prior publication must be acknowledged in the second publication.

4. Duplicate articles are not published simultaneously.

5. The two journals must not have overlapping readership. (4)

COPE recommends that, "published studies do not need to be repeated unless further confirmation is required." (5) When republication is necessary, COPE requires "full and prominent disclosure of the original source. …