In a recent editorial,1 Relman decries the practice of duplicate or overlap reporting. Submission of an identical or nearly identical report by the same author or authors to more than one journal is a recurring, albeit infrequent, source of consternation and embarrassment in every editorial office.
Unlike the run-of-the-mill plagiarism, self-plagiarism does not contravene any written law. Legally, one cannot steal from oneself. Some even find the practice amusing. They refer to it as getting the most mileage out of a study. Others view it as an irregularity akin to borrowing from two or more banks on the strength of only one collateral. Hence, the offender cannot be prosecuted; at worst, he can only be rebuked.
Still, the autoplagiarist cannot be totally absolved from the stigma of thievery. For one, he steals precious journal space that would otherwise have been assigned to another author whose report may remain unpublished.
Vaisrub S. Autoplagiarism. JAMA. 1978;239(5):437. doi:10.1001/jama.1978.03280320053024