Journal retracts paper for using figures without permission

A plastic surgery journal has retracted a paper after a researcher claimed it contained three figures without his permission.

According to Aesthetic Surgery Journal’s retraction notice (which is paywalled, tsk tsk), the figures were reproduced from a paper published in a Chinese journal without the original authors’ knowledge or permission:

Zhang GL, Meng H, Huang JH, Hong XF, Zhang HS. T-Shaped Excision of the Orbicularis Oris Muscle: An Innovative Technique for Upper Lip Lift Procedures. Aesthetic Surg J. 2015; 35(4): 456-461. DOI: 10.1093/asj/sju056

It has come to our attention that this article contains images (Figure 1, Figure 3, Figure 4) that were duplicates to previously published work in the article: “Application of Upper-lip Lifting Procedure in Perioral Rejuvenation” by Pan Bailin, Xie Hongbin, Cheng Hong in the Chinese Journal of Medical Aesthetics and Cosmetology, 2015; 21(1):19-22. Permission to reproduce was not sought nor granted and no attribution was included for the use of these figures. For this reason, the publication in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal has been retracted by Foad Nahai, MD, Editor in Chief, Aesthetic Surgery Journal.

The 2015 paper has been cited only by its retraction, according to Thomson Reuters Web of Science. It was retracted in July, 2015, only months after it was published in April.

In an email, the editorial manager of the journal provided more details about the retraction process:

The Aesthetic Surgery Journal (ASJ) was contacted by a researcher in China highlighting that an article published in ASJ used three figures from his previously published article. He claimed this was as an infringement of his intellectual property rights. As suggested in the [Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE)] guidelines, and in consultation with our publisher, Oxford University Press and society legal counsel, we asked the author of the ASJ article to respond within 7 days and provide an explanation. No reply was received, despite follow up emails. Our own investigation indicated that permission to reproduce those figures had not been sought nor granted, and no attribution was included for their use. We concluded, therefore, that this constituted plagiarism and pursuant to the COPE guidelines, a retraction was issued.

Aesthetic Surgery Journal declined to name which author of the original paper notified them of the plagiarism. We were unable to find contact information for the three authors of the original paper.

We contacted the corresponding author of the retracted paper, Gan-lin Zhang, and will update if we hear back.

Hat tip: Rolf Degen

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One thought on “Journal retracts paper for using figures without permission”

  1. it seems right to retract if the images were reproduced without attribution — that’s plagiarism territory. But the fact that they were reproduced without authorization should not, I believe, be grounds for retraction. That’s a copyright law matter, and it could turn out that using somebody’s images with attribtion but without authorization may fall under fair use. I dont think journals should play copyright cops, even if they may have received the copyright in those images from the author. Copyright issues are best handled by courts, and copyright violations can be handled without resorting to retractions. If we leave it to journals to decide what’s a lawful reproduction and what is not we may end up seeing a lot of retractions for something that was lawful fair use. My guess is that scientific illustrations and diagrams, because they are factual, may have very thin copyright protection, if any.

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