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I am submitting a research paper to a journal and they asked me to sign the copyright agreement in favour of the editor before the paper is accepted. Is this right? And what happens in this case is if the paper rejected?

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    What do you mean with “in favour of the editor”? – Wrzlprmft Dec 31 '14 at 17:24
  • @Wrzlprmft: I think the OP talks about the possibility that the paper is rejected and later in the process - published (modified) by someone else. Without giving credit to the authors that did most of the work. – Willem Van Onsem Jan 1 '15 at 16:44
  • @CommuSoft: I doubt that. The author writes, that he was “asked to sign […] in favour of the editor“. The journal will hardly tell he should sign so that they can steal his work. – Wrzlprmft Jan 1 '15 at 18:47
  • @Wrzlprmft: I agree on that part. I think stealing is too strong. Say the paper contains some huge mistakes, but has some promising idea's it's always hard to tell who "came there first"... – Willem Van Onsem Jan 1 '15 at 19:06
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This is rather normal for non open-access articles in my field (Physics), however all journals I have submitted to until now had a clause that the copyright transfer is voided if the paper is not accepted or withdrawn. For example IOP’s copyright agreement contains the following sentence:

In the event that the Article is withdrawn prior to acceptance, or is rejected, this agreement shall have no effect and no party shall be bound by it.

If such conditions are included, requesting such an agreement at an early stage seems somewhat reasonable to me, since it would be a waste of time to review your paper if you did not agree with these terms.

If such conditions are not included, this is a clear warning sign that the publisher may be up to nothing good. However, even with such a clause, problems may arise, as the publisher may just instantly accept your article.

For open-access articles (pay-to-publish), a similar situation holds, however, the copyright agreement usally requires less commitment from you, as you should retain most rights on your article (since the journal does not make money with being the only one making your article available). This not applying to the copyright agreement is another warning sign of a predatory publisher.

In both cases, you should read the copyright agreement carefully and ensure the reputability of the publisher.

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Unfortunately, a number of large-scale publishers expect you to sign over the copyrights before the article is accepted. For instance, the American Chemical Society, as well as the Materials Research Society will continually hound you about the transfer agreement until it's submitted, and moreover will not formally accept the article until they have the transfer agreement.

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    No, usually the agreement is worded so that it's conditional on the manuscript being accepted. – aeismail Dec 31 '14 at 17:41
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    I am looking at the MRS copyright form right now thanks to the link you provided, and I don't see any wording that makes it conditional on acceptance. Did I miss it? – Pete L. Clark Dec 31 '14 at 17:47
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    @Andreas: I don't read the wording that way. For instance, the phrase you quote is not part of a complete sentence, so is not asserting anything, as far as I can see. Also, by signing this form you are transferring over the copyright unconditionally, as far as I can see. It is pretty well established that you don't need to publish what you have under copyright. I would certainly not sign this form without at least checking how the journal interprets the language. – Pete L. Clark Dec 31 '14 at 22:35
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    But the whole idea of signing over copyright before the paper is refereed or accepted just seems incoherent to me. Presumably the submitted version of the paper is not identical to the published version. If there are revisions (which is most often the case) it may actually be intellectually different. Can you have one copyright form that covers different documents? If so, I guess the journal has the right to make whatever revisions they want -- they have the copyright. That sounds like an absolute mess. – Pete L. Clark Dec 31 '14 at 22:38
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    Nevertheless, I agree that, before signing such a thing, one should find out what the publisher thinks it means. Perhaps even more relevant is what lawyers and judges think it means. – Andreas Blass Jan 1 '15 at 2:34
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Have you checked this journal against Beall's list of Preadatory Publishers and Preadatory Journals? There's little reason to sign over the copyright until the article is accepted, and this practice seems sketchy at best to me.

  • See my comment to @paulgarrett and the answer by aeismail: unfortunately, many large legitimate publishers do this, particularly in biomedical and chemistry journals. – jakebeal Dec 31 '14 at 20:01
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Many big publishers will often start asking pretty much immediately (I don't know if this is policy or just brain-dead software configuration). You can generally safely ignore these requests until the article is actually accepted, however, because until then the idea of copyright transfer is moot. That is certainly the policy that I follow, and it hasn't caused me any trouble yet.

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Do not sign any copyright release before the paper is accepted, in any case.

The irregularity of this practice is itself a bad sign about the legitimacy of the journal.

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    Unfortunately, a lot of legitimate large publishers do this. For example, I have found ACS particularly obnoxious. – jakebeal Dec 31 '14 at 18:40
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    @jakebeal, I am amazed that this is still so. "We", collectively, should not tolerate it. Legit mathematics journals do not seem to do this, happily, despite their other manifold failings. – paul garrett Dec 31 '14 at 18:47
  • Unfortunately it is so: from what I have seen, math and physics generally have the most progressive publication policies, followed by computer science. On the other end of the spectrum, many biomedical and chemistry publications are practically abusive, and this will not change until the authors in those communities object. – jakebeal Dec 31 '14 at 19:59

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