How To Become A Scientific Author In Poland: Delete Part Of Someone Else's Article You Think Is Wrong

from the it's-that-easy? dept

Copyrightgirl pointed us to a bizarre judgement from the Polish Supreme Court last year, which found that you can become co-author of a scientific text by deleting a few sentences that you believe to be incorrect:

The defendant wrote an article about music therapy, i.e. applying music in medical treatment. Not being a physician herself, the author had requested three colleagues to verify the article and, as a result, they suggested deleting some parts, which, in their view, were not compatible with accepted medical knowledge (they were probably right, as one of the deleted sentences considered replacing anesthesia by music during surgery, which even to devoted music lovers must sound rather extreme). The defendant initially agreed to publish the article together with her ? then ? colleagues as co-authors, but later changed her mind. The colleagues duly sued to have their co-authorship recognised and, in the eyes of many experts surprisingly, won in all instances, including the Supreme Court.

The trouble with this, of course, is that it leads to some ridiculous possibilities:

It also provokes the question whether all reviewers in scientific journals or university professors tutoring students, who certainly quite often (rightly or wrongly) consider certain parts of the reviewed works inaccurate or incorrect and have them deleted should not be regarded co-authors (if so, this would probably have to be the case with all university professors guiding their students through a thesis!).

It will be interesting to see what kind of cases try to build on this decision.

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Comments on “How To Become A Scientific Author In Poland: Delete Part Of Someone Else's Article You Think Is Wrong”

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Swedish Turnip (profile) says:

?in consequence of the changes introduced by the plaintiffs, a work of a different character was created which without the plaintiffs? contribution would have taken a different shape.?

At a glance this judgement doesn’t seem that bad but at a closer look it really does feel like it covers way more cases than it should.

What I am more interested about on this topic though is that the author promised to publish the article together with the others. If they were helping with the paper because they had been promised co-authorship and otherwise would not previewed and offered insights on it I can’t help but wonder if the one to blame in this specific case was the author herself.

I am not that fluent in legalese and I’m very much not up-to-date on polish laws but I feel that the outcome of the court case is right but that the stated reason for the judgement is wrong.

I would be interested in reading the court decision in full myself but my polish is a bit rusty, I doubt that it gives a blanket permission to just delete something from another work and claim co-authorship like the title implies. The implications for a student-professor interactions during the course of writing a thesis is however worrying but without reading the whole court decision it’s hard to know how it will turn out.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

While their contribution to the overall paper was not that grand, she agreed to some terms and then said oops didn’t mean it.

I don’t see this as a copyright issue, so much as a contract issue.

While some lawyer might try to use this as grounds for some other cases, I doubt they would get much traction. If you ask someone to edit your paper and offer them a credit on the paper, and then say oh I was kidding I expect them to sue you.

Polish Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t know the details of the case, so I can’t comment on the ruling itself, but 1 thing you must remember is that polish law is not common law and one ruling of the Supreme Court is just a final decision in that one particular case, and may (but doesn’t have to) be considered a guideline for other judges.
BTW, the Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president and approved by the parliament.

Olgierd (user link) says:

Re: Re:

You’re correct that the President does appoint Supreme Court judges, but

(i) only from the candidates proposed by National Court Council (Krajowa Rada Sądownictwa),

(ii) nobody — neither any legislative body nor anyone else — approves the President’s decision.

I cannot locate the ruling but perhaps it was based on the derivative work conception, which — particularly if the Very-Scientific-Paper is edited — may lead to such a conclusion.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

Shouldn’t have agreed to co-authorship in the first place. But any decent writer does a ton of research and gets all the people she can to critique the material before publishing.

My wife once wrote a fiction story about a boxer (one who engages in the sport of boxing) and spent a lot of effort reading up about boxing and running around interviewing people in the business. And of course many people (including me) were asked to read and critique.

Should she have named every one of those people as co-author? No. That’s what the acknowledgements section is for. Not one of them penned a single word. She’s the one who actually did the work writing the story.

(She never published, so don’t bother looking. You will find authors with my last name, they’re not related or are very distant relatives.)

However, I agree with other comments that if the author agreed to co-authorship in a contract, he was obligated.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:


I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, defending the patent system as it exists. It is horrible, taken as a whole (though incrementally getting a little better).
BUT, in the US, asking an expert for help does NOT make the expert a co-inventor, and while not clearly defined in the law, I believe an argument to that precedent would prevail as to authorship, etc. IN THE US, that is.

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