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My paper was accepted in an open access journal, I am the corresponding author, but soon after acceptance my co-authors refused to pay their part of the article processing charges (APC) and sent me the email requesting removal of their names citing inability to pay the APC.

I immediately contacted the academic editor, and informed her of the whole situation, in response the journal clearly stated that they won't waive the AP nor allow me to remove the names of the co-authors, they say that once accepted one cannot add / remove names in accordance with ICMEJ policy.

Now my paper is stuck. Is the journal's stance correct? What should I do in this case? Should I withdraw this paper or should I approach editor in chief to solve this matter?

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    Is the journal reputable?
    – Nobody
    Jan 8, 2023 at 9:37
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    Are you offering to pay the APC? If not, who is paying the APC? (given that your co-author is not paying)
    – Allure
    Jan 8, 2023 at 9:50
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    What were your prior arrangements with the co-authors regarding APC charges? Did you have any? I am asking the same question as @Allure, but specifically about what did you agree upon BEFORE you have submitted the paper to the journal. You offered to pay APC now, but what was your plan going in into this submission?
    – Lodinn
    Jan 8, 2023 at 11:18
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    Now that you've offered to pay the charge, what are your coauthors objections to being listed as authors? You can't know how to proceed without that information.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 8, 2023 at 15:54
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    "Yes i have offered to pay apc" Did you offer to pay the whole amount (USD$2500) or only partial amount? If you'll pay the whole amount, did you tell the co-authors that?
    – Nobody
    Jan 9, 2023 at 9:52

3 Answers 3

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There seems to be confusion here:

Paying part of the APC is neither necessary nor sufficient for being a co-author.

So if the other authors can't pay anything but you can cover the full APC, there is no need to remove them as authors. On the contrary: I assume that they are authors of the paper since they contributed significantly enough and then it would not be ok to remove them from the work.

Moreover:

The issue of APCs has to be discussed before submission.

There are many possible arrangements (the APC is split, one of the authors pays all, some author has a grant to cover it,…) but the group of authors has to agree. In the case where I was part of some team usually one of the authors offered to pay all of it.

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    Also: See this this related question.
    – Dirk
    Jan 8, 2023 at 16:37
  • Is academia the only field where workers pay to work? "When I started, I had to pay Mr Krabs a hundred dollars an hour!" Jan 11, 2023 at 12:30
  • Well, they don't pay to do the research and usually APCs are not paid of the own pockets of the researchers but by some budget/grant,…
    – Dirk
    Jan 11, 2023 at 13:32
  • @user253751 No. Lots of kinds of workers pay for their own tools. Machinists often buy their own (very expensive) measuring devices--though work tools are provided at the factory. Lots of workers pay for their own work uniforms. Jan 11, 2023 at 15:09
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ICMJE (International Committee of Medical Journal Editors) policy actually has a provision for this specific situation:

If authors request removal or addition of an author after manuscript submission or publication, journal editors should seek an explanation and signed statement of agreement for the requested change from all listed authors and from the author to be removed or added.

It is technically possible to salvage the paper, but the journal is, IMHO, rightfully concerned about the ethics of the process here, as denying authorship on the basis of refusing to pay APC is highly problematic. I would say that the most ethical thing to do in this situation is for you to decide whether you are still okay with paying APC and if so, keep them as authors. That advice is given under an assumption you have already come to an unambiguous understanding of what happened here.

If not, you would first need to get that shared understanding. Can the paper, take a step back and review your work process. More specifically, your point of view can be described as following to the co-authors ("you" collectively refers to the rest of the co-authors here):

  1. We have all agreed to submit our paper to this journal, AND
  2. We all knew there would be an APC, AND
  3. You have confirmed that you are willing to pay your share of APC, AND
  4. You are now refusing to do so.

If any of these points are challenged, all six (?) of you need to agree on why that happened. Maybe they knew there were APCs, but did not expect them to be that high, in which case it is entirely on them. Maybe you did not tell them clearly enough there will be charges, in which case it is mostly on you. Maybe they have agreed to pay, but circumstances have changed (e.g. experiencing troubles dealing with their institution) - in which case it is on them again, but you might be willing to pay. This is what I meant by "decide whether you are still okay with paying APC" - first of all, figure out if you have enough information about the issue or not.

Either way, most of the scenarios converge at this being a monetary/workplace dispute, which is separate from authorship (see Dirk's answer). Authorship is often reviewed under something collectively known as moral rights:

In continental Europe, moral rights are “inalienable and cannot be transferred or waived.”

In other words, you might have been scammed out of two grand - which you need to figure out and dispute accordingly with them and, possibly, institutions involved. But all that does not make it right to revoke the authorship UNLESS they are now strongly objecting to be associated with the paper at all, in which case you badly need a clarification as well.

The entire situation sounds like a huge breach of work ethics - from your description, they are at fault, but we do not see the other side of the story here (e.g. do you have a clear confirmation, in writing, that they have earlier agreed to paying these charges?).

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    " I would say that the most ethical thing to do in this situation is for you to decide whether you are still okay with paying APC and if so, keep them as authors" - this is potentially dangerous given OP's apparent lack of understanding about what's going on. It's critical that the OP come to an agreement with coauthors over what comes next, not just pay the charges and keep them on if they're asking to be removed.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 8, 2023 at 15:57
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    @PG You keep changing the subject and not responding to questions for clarification here. Your situation is very unclear based on what you've written here, so it's no wonder the journal isn't understanding. Please clarify so that we can help you communicate with the journal. It seems like you or your coauthors are complicating things, not the journal.
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 8, 2023 at 19:01
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    @P G Find this rather confusing. Co-authors knew there was APC. Presumably contributed time, effort, and (possibly) money to the work. Had the work accepted. And then asked to be removed? Feels like there must be something not included like: Bad journal, Worse journal than hoped for, Shame in research results? Are the co-authors adamant about being removed, or just hoping you'll pay and foot the bill?
    – G. Putnam
    Jan 8, 2023 at 19:05
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    @BryanKrause I agree. To me, there are two possible courses of action: if what has happened is truly unclear, take a step back to first figure it out, or, if it is clear that co-authors have, indeed, agreed to pay their share of APC and then bailed, it becomes a financial/workplace issue, possible with the institution involvement. If OP's responses are representative of their communication with the co-authors, clarification is much needed. I will add an edit correspondingly, thank you.
    – Lodinn
    Jan 9, 2023 at 4:08
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    @PG Now that you are paying all the publishing costs, have you asked your coauthors if they want their names back on the paper? If you asked, did the coauthors refuse? If they refused, why did they refuse?
    – Bryan Krause
    Jan 9, 2023 at 15:43
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If I'm understanding your comments right, this happened:

  • You submitted the paper to an open access journal with your co-authors' agreement & with the understanding that the APC will be split between authors.
  • Your paper is accepted. The journal sends you an invoice for the APC.
  • Your co-authors refuse to pay the APC and want to withdraw their name from the article.
  • The journal does not let you remove names from the paper, and your paper is in limbo as a result.

If this description is accurate, then this is a dispute between the authors and not the journal's concern. From the journal's perspective, they can't just waive the APC without reason, and they can't just let you remove an author's name either. This is because authorship rules generally say that everyone who contributed substantially to the paper should be an author (example). The journal can no more publish your paper without your co-authors' names than you can submit it without your co-authors' names.

So: discuss with co-authors. First figure out exactly what the problem is - it's not clear what the co-authors' objections are. Then figure out what to do. If your description (co-authors didn't want co-authorship because they didn't want to pay the APC) is correct, then the obvious result is that they will no longer object since you are paying the entire APC, and the journal can publish it. Alternatively they could be refusing co-authorship even though you are paying the entire APC, because they have lost faith in the manuscript for some reason. If this is indeed the case, you could submit signed documents from the co-authors verifying this to the journal.

Either way, do not email the journal until you have resolved the problem. It really is not something for them to solve.

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    Thanks, for the correct understanding, I have also reached to this conclusion that I need to resolve this on the authors level.
    – P G
    Jan 10, 2023 at 7:45

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