Predatory Publisher Ordered to Pay $50 Million in Damages

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 when, in fact, journals approved most articles within days of submission and without any substantive feedback to authors. The judge relied in part on an investigation published in Science, in which journalists found that, of 69,000 manuscripts published by OMICS between 2011 and 2017, only half were sent out for peer review.

Furthermore, OMICS 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 publisher also was accused of deception regarding the fees it charged authors 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 or if any portion of the fine will be collected or dispersed among authors whose work was published in OMICS’ journals.

The $50.1 million judgment was calculated based on OMICS’ total revenues from 2011 to 2017, less chargebacks and refunds. 

“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.