Federal Trade Commission Wins Case Against Predatory Publisher

OMICS International, which publishes nearly 700 scientific journals, was ordered to pay $50.1 million in damages for engaging in “predatory publisher” tactics. The ruling was handed down by a federal judge in the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, who reviewed a case brought by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Acting in its capacity as a consumer watchdog, the FTC filed a suit alleging that OMICS deceptively advertised its peer-review process, promising authors that editorial boards conducted rigorous review. According to an investigation published in Science, OMICS journals approved most articles within days of submission and only half of the approximately 69,000 manuscripts published between 2011 and 2017 were ever sent out for peer review.

“The FTC is closely monitoring this industry, and we’re hoping that the decision sends a warning shot across the bow of would-be predatory or deceptive publishers.”

—Gregory Ashe, FTC Attorney

OMICS also claimed to have more than 50,000 scientists as experts and editorial reviewers on its journals, some of whom never agreed to serve. The publisher was accused of the same tactics in organizing its scholarly conferences: It advertised that prominent academics would attend, but many had not agreed to serve as speakers or chairs.

The FTC also accused the publisher of deceiving authors about the fees it charged to publish manuscripts in its open-access journals.

This represents one of the first rulings of its kind against so-called predatory publishers, which “unprofessionally exploit” the open-access publishing model, primarily for profit. However, because the publisher is based in India and the judgment was made in a U.S. court, it is unclear how the fine will be collected or whether any portion will be dispersed among authors whose work was published in OMICS’ journals.

“The FTC is closely monitoring this industry,” the agency’s attorney Gregory Ashe said in an interview with Science, “and we’re hoping that the decision sends a warning shot across the bow of would-be predatory or deceptive publishers to tread carefully. Re-evaluate the claims that you’re making [so] you’re not making claims that are not true.”

Representatives from OMICS International said it plans to appeal the ruling.

Source: Science, April 3, 2019.