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I have written and submitted a manuscript to a journal owned by Oxford University Press. This manuscript describes the associated source code, which is stored in a public GitHub repository. The journal has sent this manuscript to reviewers, and they have responded with some suggestions on how to improve the code. I would like to implement these suggestions in my code.

To what extent can I refer to these suggestions in my public task management workflow (ie GitHub)? I'm not even sure who owns the IP to the peer reviews themselves, but I assume that, since it's a closed review system, I am not allowed to reproduce the comments. In that case, can I paraphrase these suggestions when I write my GitHub issues? Each GitHub issue is a public thread for tracking information about tasks, their scope and their progress. If yes, can I explicitly tag these issues as being derived from peer review? Or will this leak too much of associated IP? More broadly, how can I balance my desire for open and transparent software development, with a closed review process?

  • if the reviewers are willing to unblind themselves that might make things less complicated ... You could write an e-mail explaining the situation to the handling editor for the journal and ask if they'd be willing to forward it to the reviewers. It would then be up to the reviewers to decide what they wanted to do. – Ben Bolker Oct 28 at 15:32
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    This might work, but I would like to develop a workflow that works within the restrictions of the system where possible, so that it remains friction-less. Emailing the editor and asking for a removal of the blind review for every submission doesn't seem ideal. – Migwell Oct 28 at 16:22
  • If this is important to you, then next time you submit a manuscript whose main purpose is to describe open-source code, you might like to choose the Journal of Open Source Software, which uses GitHub's "issues" system as the vehicle for delivery of reviewers' proposed changes. – Daniel Hatton Oct 30 at 17:47
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I think the other answer and comments focus too much on the legal aspects involved. There is also a community moral aspect to it. There is a good discussion in the Publons article Who owns the review.

The comments that the reviewer makes are meant to be only for the author(s) and editor. For the editor to help make a decision on acceptance of the paper and for the author(s) to either explain this decision or help improve the paper. Quoting this comments elsewhere isn't really part of the traditional process.

However, the issues raised by the reviewer need addressing in the code and you are following code practice by tracking issues using an appropriate (open) tool.

I think its important that you remember that the reviewers recommendations are just recommendations that you need to interpret in any case before you make any changes. I would recommend to make issues/tasks using your interpretations of what needs to be done. You should be able to state clearly both what needs to be done and why without quoting the reviewer at all.

This way you avoid any problems relating to copyright at all - publishing interpretations is fine. The recommendations are there to be acted on so there's no need to bother a probably already over-worked editor. More importantly this approach makes you think about what the changes are and why they are needed. This will help your understanding of the issues and how to fix them better.

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  • I think this answer makes sense, but like I said elsewhere, I don't think it's always possible to apply common sense reasoning to IP issues: e.g. I wouldn't be allowed to paraphrase/publish an interpretation of a company's super secret algorithm without permission. – Migwell Oct 29 at 1:04
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I'm going to speak loosely here, but the copyright in these reviews probably gets assigned to the journal. Check OUP's website for instructions for reviewers and see if they have a page on it. But, every reviewer generally signs some sort of agreement before they do their first review, or with their submission. It may depend on country to some extent or entirely. I couldn't find anything immediately, so you may have to contact an editor now to find out.

My guess is that OUP has the copyright on the suggested code or the reviewer retains it. Either way, you need someone else's permission to adopt it into your project, which, in the US, would probably require a written copyright transfer to you or whoever owns the copyright on your GitHub project (which might not be you even if you think it is). This written transfer agreement would break the anonymity/single-blindness of the review process, so you'd have to go through the editor anyway, so there's no harm in just starting there.

Edited to add: you should be asking the editor to clarify and to get you permission from the reviewer in question to use the code, gratis. For them to donate the code to the editor or you in a way that complies with most copyright laws and contributes it to your project in a way that you or the actual copyright holder can take ownership and check it in to the repo with no repercussions. All while maintaining the integrity of the review process.

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    If this changes anything, the suggestions are just a description of changes, and aren't physical code. – Migwell Oct 28 at 16:19
  • Emailing the editor to ask for permission isn't a normal part of the review process, so I wonder how this is done normally? – Migwell Oct 28 at 16:20
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    Sure, I have no problem doing that in the manuscript, but my question is about referring to the reviewer comments in my public GitHub, before publication. – Migwell Oct 28 at 16:28
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    Paraphrase them. "This section was modified based on comments from Reviewer 2 during review of our paper [cite, to appear [or 'under review' or 'rejected']] for a 20% performance improvement." in the commit message and comment. There's no harm in paraphrasing. – Bill Barth Oct 28 at 16:31
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    This seems like a logical step, but paraphrasing private intellectual property doesn't seem like something that would always be safe (e.g. I wouldn't be allowed to paraphrase a company's super secret algorithm without permission) – Migwell Oct 28 at 16:41

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