Synopsis: Can a fake journal keep the copyright of a submitted (not published) paper, despite the authors' request to withdraw it (because of the journal not keeping its full-waiver promise and also not following a correct article processing routine)?
Is this legally possible for the thief to legally keep the theft (and unpublished) article? Or can the authors ignore the previous journal's threats, and submit the paper to another journal?
The authors have paid no fee and will not pay any. But they want their paper back, so that they can submit it to another journal.
My friends submitted their paper to a legit-looking journal, on the condition that it has no article processing charges (APC) and fees, if accepted.
The journal agreed with no-fee request; they received the manuscript, and despite its promise of speed, it did nothing for 7 months. After 7 months, the authors asked about their paper, and due to the journal's lack of response, the authors withdrew the paper.
The journal replied after the withdrawal request that: it is accepted and in proofing stage (without any peer-review or revisions or even without any acceptance letter!). The journal asked for 1200 Euros to publish the paper.
The authors reminded the journal of their condition of No-APC.
The journal gave some untrue (completely provable), again asking for APC.
The authors asked for withdrawal again.
The journal refused, unless the authors pay about 700 Euros. The journal told the authors they are not allowed to submit their paper to any other journal because it is with the (predatory) journal and the journal has the copyright now. Is this possible?
- NOTE: Upon the submission, the authors have told the journal that the paper is not submitted to any other journal and under consideration anywhere. Can the journal abuse this statement to keep the theft material?
- NOTE: No copyright transfer was signed or sent to the journal upon submission.
- NOTE that the journal as well is bound to publishing the paper (if peer-reviewed and accepted) without any APC, as per their agreement with the authors.
- NOTE that the journal has not even peer-reviewed the paper!
- NOTE: The journal had not even accepted the paper (there is no acceptance email)!
- NOTE: The journal is open access and its website states that the authors retain the copyright (not that their website is authentic or that they follow their own guidelines, but even their website does not say anything about automatically transferring any copyrights to the journal upon the submission).
- NOTE: The journal rushed to hastily accept the paper (without any peer review or revision) AFTER the authors' withdrawal. First, the authors sent 2 emails to the journal, requesting to withdraw the paper. Then, the journal said "the paper is in proofing stage and pending payment" (despite the no-payment agreement). So one may say that the paper was withdrawn BEFORE the (so-called) acceptance, right?
- Can the authors ignore the journal and submit the paper to another journal?
- If so, how?
- If not, what should be done?
- What else should the authors do? For example, if they want to sue the journal, how should they do so?
ps. I see David's answer in this thread may be relevant to my question. The difference is that my friends' paper is not published (nor peer reviewed): How can I withdraw a publication from a predatory (fake) journal and resubmit to a legitimate journal?