There are thousands and thousands of academic journals in the world, and not all of them are great to work with. Some issues are fairly common, like delayed peer-review and publication or a lack of transparency. Once in a while, though, authors face problems with journals that go beyond the typical challenges of a journal that is low on staff or editors that are too busy. Here are a few examples of deceptive or problematic behavior that authors have encountered:
- You submit an article to a journal and then learn that you were deceived about the identity of the journal, or discover that it is engaged in unethical practices. Given this new information, you no longer wish to publish with the journal, but the journal editor insists on publishing your article anyway.
- You’re listed on the editorial board of a journal, but you have no affiliation with the publication and want your name taken off the journal’s website. The journal refuses to remove your name.
- A journal has published an article that plagiarized your work and won’t take the article down.
Most authors are unprepared for conflicts like this because they’re rare; authors are used to their contacts at journals behaving ethically and professionally. The mismatch between expectation and reality can leave authors feeling upset that they have been fooled or manipulated and uncertain about their rights and what they can do to address the problem they are facing. Below are some tips for authors who find themselves dealing with journals behaving badly.
Be firm and direct. Once you have reason to believe that the journal you’re dealing with is acting unethically, let your writing reflect that. Don’t use words like “prefer” or “should,” or expect them to respond to your implications about responsible behavior. State clearly what actions they have taken that you object to; state that you believe those actions to be unethical; and list the steps you demand that they take to remedy the problem.
If firm and direct hasn’t worked, raise your (virtual) voice. Get the journal’s attention with how your message looks, if they’re not paying attention to what it says: use boldface and underlining as appropriate; consider an attachment with letterhead instead of just an email. Strengthen your message by raising issues of reputation and law, as outlined below.
Point out potential consequences to things they care about, like reputation. If the journal is indexed in an important collection or database, or if it advertises a ranking, you can let them know you are willing to report their behavior to the relevant indexes or ranking services. If you are active on social media within your discipline, you can notify the journal that you will be sharing the outcome of your dispute with your community.
Mention laws the journal may be violating. Since your rights are the ones being violated, lawyers for your employer can’t help you, but you do not need to have a lawyer to notify someone that you believe they are breaking the law. Naming a particular law can be an effective attention getter. Depending on the behavior you’re dealing with, consider which of the issues below may be relevant:
- Copyright. UC academic authors own the copyright in the scholarly and aesthetic works they create, like journal articles. US copyright law gives authors the exclusive right to control reproduction and distribution of their works. If a journal is distributing something you wrote without your permission, and their actions don’t fall under an exception like fair use, they’re violating your rights under 17 U.S.C. § 106. Copyright infringers are liable for damages, and may also be responsible for attorney’s fees and costs, as described in 17 U.S.C. §§ 500-505.
- Fraud. Fraud is intentionally deceiving someone and causing that person to suffer a loss. If a journal has misled you in order to get you to submit your work to them, has dishonestly claimed that you are affiliated with them, or in some other way engaged in deceptive behavior in order to get you or your peers to do something, they may have engaged in fraud. If you have signed a contract (e.g. a publication agreement) with a journal that misled you, you can complain that the contract is unenforceable because of the journal’s deceit. Specific laws include:
- Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act (15 U.S.C. § 45) prohibits “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.” The FTC has prosecuted journal publishers for deceptive practices in the past. Fraud can be reported to the FTC at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov/#/
- California has its own laws against fraudulent business practices, as do most states. California’s law is called the Unfair Competition Law, and it’s found in the California Business & Professions Code, starting at section 17200.
- Right of publicity. If a journal has used your name in a misleading way, such as listing you as a member of their editorial board when you are not, they may be violating your right of publicity in addition to committing fraud. The right of publicity varies by state. California’s right of publicity law is found in Civil Code 3344.
For more help, contact the scholarly communication specialists at your campus library. They may have heard from other authors in similar situations and can share with you what strategies they’ve found effective in the past. They may also have copies of letters they’ve used before that you can use to build your own message.
If you’re lucky enough to be reading this before you’re dealing with unethical journal behavior yourself, or you want to avoid finding yourself in a similar situation again, your campus library’s scholarly communication specialists can help with that, too. They may have online resources you can read on the subject, or even workshops to learn more about these issues. You can get started with the following guides, whose information applies to any author, regardless of institutional affiliation:
- Evaluating Journals, UC Berkeley Library Office of Scholarly Communication Services
- Reputable Open Access Journal Indicators, UC Irvine Library
- Evaluating Journals & Conferences, UCSF Library
- Publishing Options and Opportunities: Choosing & Evaluating, UC San Diego Library