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Many (traditional) journals request copyright transfer upon acceptance.

A group of librarians suggested that authors negotiate the copyright transfer and prepare to walk away if the journal insists on full copyright transfer.

Suppose the authors refused but the journal insisted on the transfer, and therefore the authors decided to publish elsewhere.

Generally, what are authors' and journals rights in such a case?

What happens to the peer review the authors received from the first journal? Can or should they present it when submitting to another journal?

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    Surely, authors can access journal's copyright transfer form and study it thoroughly before they submit to this journal. – Dmitry Savostyanov Jan 10 at 20:32
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    Surely. But they can also negotiate after acceptance. – Orion Jan 10 at 20:35
  • What would be the benefits of doing it after? – Dmitry Savostyanov Jan 10 at 20:51
  • If the editor/journal finds the article important, e.g., of potentially high impact, they may ask for less restrictive terms or even allow authors to retain ownership. – Orion Jan 10 at 21:00
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    For some journals, submitting the manuscript entails transferring copyright, see for instance ma.huji.ac.il/~ijmath/instructions.html – Andrés E. Caicedo Jan 10 at 21:34
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The authors should check when the journal transfers copyright. As mentioned by Andrés E. Caicedo in the comments, some journals assume the authors transfer copyright once a paper is submitted, not after acceptance.

If the authors withdraw a paper because they do not want to transfer the copyright, the journal's likely reaction would be to remind the author about the possibility of publishing open access. If the authors decline that too, then the journal will probably think, "why did you submit it to us then?" Getting the paper reviewed involves a nontrivial amount of effort. If the journal decides the authors submitted the paper knowing that they will withdraw it if it's accepted, effectively wasting the journal's time, they might blacklist the authors.

As for what happens to the peer reviews, from the journal's perspective, nothing. The reviews are left on the manuscript's record, of course, but nothing beyond that. The authors will still have access to them, and they can do whatever they want with them (such as use it to improve their manuscript). They should not, however, present them to another journal. As I wrote in an answer to another question, these reviews don't help the new journal:

We can't use the original journal's reviewer comments & your responses. We don't know who the reviewers are. We can't tell if the reports are legitimate. We can't see if confidential comments were submitted.

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If you do not transfer copyright to the journal (or in some way provide them permission), the journal has no rights to reproduce the manuscript. If you do not transfer copyright to the journal, your rights are not limited.

What happens to the peer review the authors received from the first journal? Can or should they present it when submitting to another journal?

I am not sure if this has anything to do with why you withdraw the manuscript from the first journal. You clearly do not hold copyright on the reviews (e.g., the reveiwer probably does, but maybe not), so forwarding them on is probably a no-no. That said, there are likely no damages, so if you did, it probably is not a big deal. More importantly, if the new journal wants the reviews they would probably go through a portable peer review system (although that does not seem to be very popular).

  • Transferring copyright is not necessary for a journal to print an article. All the journal needs is a license. My impression is that they ask for full copyright for their convenience. My experience suggests that not all journals are willing to merely license articles, unfortunately. – Ben Trettel Jan 10 at 20:45
  • @BenTrettel yes it is possible the OP gave the journal a license but not copyright, but I think this is splitting hairs based on the question. – StrongBad Jan 10 at 20:50
  • I was just commenting on your first sentence, not saying that the OP gave the journal a license. Your first sentence reads to me that journals can only publish a paper if they own copyright. – Ben Trettel Jan 10 at 20:56
  • @StrongBad "I am not sure if this has anything to do with why you withdraw the manuscript from the first journal." The withdrawal is purely due to disagreement with the journal on copyright. – Orion Jan 10 at 21:06
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I doubt you should ever forward the reviews. Irrespective of this copyright gambit. You can summarize that reviews were done and the general positive/negative and evolution of the paper (in succinct fashion). But the reviews themselves were in confidence.

I would also mention your copyright issue with the second journal. Otherwise you are wasting everyone's time. Probably wasting people's time at first journal too. If you want the rights, find a journal that does this or just self publish.

Academic journals are different than paid authored content (stories, novels, freelance articles and photos) where some negotiation dance is tolerated.

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