Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
J Am Acad Dermatol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2009 May 8.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC2679117

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Self-Plagiarism: How to Avoid Recycling Fraud

Robert P. Dellavalle, MD, PhD, MSPH,1,2 Marcus A. Banks, MLIS,3 and Jeffrey I. Ellis, MD4

1. What is self-plagiarism?

Self-plagiarism, also known as recycling fraud, occurs when an author reuses text in subsequent writings without attributing the previous publication.13

2. Is self-plagiarism ever acceptable?

Thomas Jefferson repeated prose from previous writings in The Declaration of Independence and did not cite these works.4 Few would argue this famous example of self-plagiarism as unacceptable.

Most also agree that experts providing opinions to popular newspapers or magazines need not cite specific previous writings.

3. What is copyright?

The US Constitution grants Congress the power to “promote the progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” Copyright is this legal protection of a particular expression of an idea, but not of the facts or ideas themselves.5 In the US, copyright protection extends for the life of the author plus 70 years.6

4. How does self-plagiarism involve copyright infringement?

Authors of technical articles are often asked to assign copyright to a journal’s owner or publisher as a condition for publication—such is the case for the JAAD, whose owner is the AAD. In many cases the publisher handles permission requests from authors. Elsevier does this for the JAAD. Subsequent republication by the author of copyrighted text without permission and citation is technically illegal—but permission is usually granted pro forma.

5. Have authors been legally sanctioned for violating copyright on their own words?

Few sanctions have been handed down as the courts have generally recognized that “authors have special rights to their words not withstanding copyright.”3

6. If copyright law has not been enforced against authors repeating themselves, then why worry about self-plagiarism?

Self-plagiarism is not acceptable in academic writing because academic writing is grounded by its references, and authors are expected to cite their closely related previous writing.




Disclosed interests: Dr. Ellis is President of the post publication peer review resource Dr. Dellavalle and Mr. Banks are respectively chair and member of the advisory committee to

Publisher's Disclaimer: This is a PDF file of an unedited manuscript that has been accepted for publication. As a service to our customers we are providing this early version of the manuscript. The manuscript will undergo copyediting, typesetting, and review of the resulting proof before it is published in its final citable form. Please note that during the production process errors may be discovered which could affect the content, and all legal disclaimers that apply to the journal pertain.


1. Hexham I. Academic Plagiarism Defined. 2005. [Accessed 5/2/07]. Available at:
2. Samuelson P. Self-plagiarism or fair use? Communications of the ACM. 1994. [Accessed 5/2/07]. p. 8. Available at:
3. Scanlon PM. Song from myself: an anatomy of self-plagiarism. Plagiary: Cross-Disciplinary Studies in Plagiarism, Fabrication, and Falsification. 2007. [Accessed 5/2/07]. pp. 1–10. [temporary pagination for advance online copies of articles] Available at:
4. Ellis JJ. American sphinx: The character of Thomas Jefferson. Vol. 64. New York: Vintage Books; 1998.
5. Copyright Law of the United States of America and Related Laws Contained in Title 17 of the United States Code. [Accessed 5/6/07]. Available at:
6. Hirtle PB. Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States. [Accessed 5/6/07]. Available at: