The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) has published detailed Recommendations on the issue of overlapping publications:
1. Duplicate Submission
Authors should not submit the same manuscript, in the same or different languages, simultaneously to more than one journal. The rationale for this standard is the potential for disagreement when two (or more) journals claim the right to publish a manuscript that has been submitted simultaneously to more than one journal, and the possibility that two or more journals will unknowingly and unnecessarily undertake the work of peer review, edit the same manuscript, and publish the same article.
2. Duplicate and Prior Publication
Duplicate publication is publication of a paper that overlaps substantially with one already published, without clear, visible reference to the previous publication. Prior publication may include release of information in the public domain.
Readers of medical journals deserve to be able to trust that what they are reading is original unless there is a clear statement that the author and editor are intentionally republishing an article (which might be considered for historic or landmark papers, for example). The bases of this position are international copyright laws, ethical conduct, and cost-effective use of resources. Duplicate publication of original research is particularly problematic because it can result in inadvertent double-counting of data or inappropriate weighting of the results of a single study, which distorts the available evidence.
When authors submit a manuscript reporting work that has already been reported in large part in a published article or is contained in or closely related to another paper that has been submitted or accepted for publication elsewhere, the letter of submission should clearly say so and the authors should provide copies of the related material to help the editor decide how to handle the submission. See also Section IV.B.
This recommendation does not prevent a journal from considering a complete report that follows publication of a preliminary report, such as a letter to the editor or an abstract or poster displayed at a scientific meeting. It also does not prevent journals from considering a paper that has been presented at a scientific meeting but was not published in full, or that is being considered for publication in proceedings or similar format. Press reports of scheduled meetings are not usually regarded as breaches of this rule, but they may be if additional data tables or figures enrich such reports. Authors should also consider how dissemination of their findings outside of scientific presentations at meetings may diminish the priority journal editors assign to their work.
In the event of a public health emergency (as defined by public health officials), information with immediate implications for public health should be disseminated without concern that this will preclude subsequent consideration for publication in a journal.
Sharing with public media, government agencies, or manufacturers the scientific information described in a paper or a letter to the editor that has been accepted but not yet published violates the policies of many journals. Such reporting may be warranted when the paper or letter describes major therapeutic advances; reportable diseases; or public health hazards, such as serious adverse effects of drugs, vaccines, other biological products, medical devices. This reporting, whether in print or online, should not jeopardize publication, but should be discussed with and agreed upon by the editor in advance when possible.
The ICMJE will not consider as prior publication the posting of trial results in any registry that meets the criteria noted in Section III.L. if results are limited to a brief (500 word) structured abstract or tables (to include patients enrolled, key outcomes, and adverse events). The ICMJE encourages authors to include a statement with the registration that indicates that the results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, and to update the results registry with the full journal citation when the results are published.
Editors of different journals may together decide to simultaneously or jointly publish an article if they believe that doing so would be in the best interest of public health. However, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) indexes all such simultaneously published joint publications separately, so editors should include a statement making the simultaneous publication clear to readers.
Authors who attempt duplicate publication without such notification should expect at least prompt rejection of the submitted manuscript. If the editor was not aware of the violations and the article has already been published, then the article might warrant retraction with or without the author’s explanation or approval.
See COPE flowcharts for further guidance on handling duplicate publication.
3. Acceptable Secondary Publication
Secondary publication of material published in other journals or online may be justifiable and beneficial, especially when intended to disseminate important information to the widest possible audience (e.g., guidelines produced by government agencies and professional organizations in the same or a different language). Secondary publication for various other reasons may also be justifiable provided the following conditions are met:
- The authors have received approval from the editors of both journals (the editor concerned with secondary publication must have access to the primary version).
- The priority of the primary publication is respected by a publication interval negotiated by both editors with the authors.
- The paper for secondary publication is intended for a different group of readers; an abbreviated version could be sufficient.
- The secondary version faithfully reflects the data and interpretations of the primary version.
- The secondary version informs readers, peers, and documenting agencies that the paper has been published in whole or in part elsewhere—for example, with a note that might read, “This article is based on a study first reported in the [journal title, with full reference]”—and the secondary version cites the primary reference.
- The title of the secondary publication should indicate that it is a secondary publication (complete or abridged republication or translation) of a primary publication. Of note, the NLM does not consider translations to be “republications” and does not cite or index them when the original article was published in a journal that is indexed in MEDLINE.
When the same journal simultaneously publishes an article in multiple languages, the MEDLINE citation will note the multiple languages (for example, Angelo M. Journal networking in nursing: a challenge to be shared. Rev Esc Enferm USP. 2011 Dec 45:1281-2,1279-80,1283-4. Article in English, Portuguese, and Spanish. No abstract available. PMID 22241182).
4. Manuscripts Based on the Same Database
If editors receive manuscripts from separate research groups or from the same group analyzing the same data set (for example, from a public database, or systematic reviews or meta-analyses of the same evidence), the manuscripts should be considered independently because they may differ in their analytic methods, conclusions, or both. If the data interpretation and conclusions are similar, it may be reasonable although not mandatory for editors to give preference to the manuscript submitted first. Editors might consider publishing more than one manuscript that overlap in this way because different analytical approaches may be complementary and equally valid, but manuscripts based upon the same dataset should add substantially to each other to warrant consideration for publication as separate papers, with appropriate citation of previous publications from the same dataset to allow for transparency.
Secondary analyses of clinical trial data should cite any primary publication, clearly state that it contains secondary analyses/results, and use the same identifying trial registration number as the primary trial.
Sometimes for large trials it is planned from the beginning to produce numerous separate publications regarding separate research questions but using the same original patient sample. In this case authors may use the original single trial registration number, if all the outcome parameters were defined in the original registration. If the authors registered several substudies as separate entries in, for example, clinicaltrials.gov, then the unique trial identifier should be given for the study in question. The main issue is transparency, so no matter what model is used it should be obvious for the reader.
Commentary (by Dexter Leung)
It should be noted that the ICMJE Recommendations are primarily addressed to the editors of medical journals. For this reason, the above passage may serve as a useful point of reference for legal researchers, but should not be taken as a definitive standard.