US agency files charges against open access publisher

Illustration of online open access publishing
Pressing charges: the US FTC has taken legal action against OMICS Group

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – an independent agency of the US government – has filed charges against the open access publisher OMICS Group. It accuses the publisher of misrepresenting its journals to attract submissions, hiding publication fees ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and making misleading claims about the conferences it organizes.

The FTC is seeking a permanent injunction against OMICS and is also seeking monetary relief, which could include refunds of money paid by researchers. OMICS, which is based in India and has offices in the US and Europe, publishes more than 700 online journals, including a number of physics titles such as the Journal of Physical Chemistry Biophysics and the Journal of Astrophysics Aerospace Technology.

The complaint, filed in the US district court in Nevada, also names the president and director of OMICS, Srinubabu Gedela, and two affiliated companies, iMedPub and Conference Series, as defendants. They deny all the allegations.

Undisclosed fees

In a statement, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, says that “the defendants in this case used false promises to convince researchers to submit articles” and “then held that work hostage over undisclosed publication fees.”

According to the FTC, OMICS falsely claims its journals follow rigorous peer-review practices and are indexed by academic databases, such as PubMed Central or MEDLINE. The FTC also says that the firm lists prominent academics as journal editors without their agreement.

The FTC adds that OMICS also states that its journals have high impact factors, but that the publisher fails to make it clear that it calculates its own impact factors, rather than using Thomson Reuters’ widely accepted standard. “In many instances, consumers only discover that their articles will not be peer reviewed and that they owe fees ranging from several hundred to several thousands of dollars after the defendants inform them that their articles have been approved for publication,” the FTC states.

Blocking publication

“Consumers’ attempts to withdraw their articles are frequently rejected, thereby preventing them from publishing in other journals,” says Rich. According to the FTC, OMICS also attracts researchers to conferences – which can cost more than $1000 to attend – with false claims of appearances by high-profile academics.

Following a request for comment, Gedela sent Physics World a link to a letter published in response to the FTC allegations. The six-page letter concludes by dismissing the accusations as “baseless” and accusing the FTC of “favouring some subscription-based journals publishers who are earing billions of dollars rom scientists literature [sic]”.

In the letter, they also note that they “hope” that the FTC understands their “service and contributions to make the scientific and health-care information open access”, adding that they have “answered all the allegations as well as provided further information”. The letter calls on the FTC to drop all proceedings and warns that OMICS may seek “damages for loss of repute and malicious prosecution”.



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