With almost every question from people having dealing with predatory publishers, the question comes up whether they have already signed a copyright agreement. This always makes me ask myself this question:
When it comes to that point, how could a publisher actually prove, that you “signed” a specific copyright transfer agreement? Any copyright transfer agreement I have encountered so far (only reputable publishers) I agreed to by clicking on a button in some submission system. Now there are two cases to distinguish:
- The submission system is hosted by a third party. In this case, the publisher has a source other than itself that could confirm that you¹ clicked on agree and what exactly you agreed to. I do not deny that there may be some evidence here.
- The system is hosted by the publisher itself. Some reputable publishers do this (at least so it seems to me) and I also would guess that this is what most disreputable publishers do. How can the publisher produce any evidence that you¹ clicked the button and what copyright agreement was shown to you? They can show that the
accepted_copyright_agreement-flag in their database is set to
truefor your submission, but given that it’s their database, they can manipulate it at will and this does not constitute any proof.
I have not come across any other case where such kind of unilateral agreements are made online. For example, if I buy something online, the actual contract of sale is established by me transferring money (or similar) and the other party transferring a product (and I have full return rights for some weeks, at least in my country, legal disputes on whether the buy button was actually clicked are unlikely).
Note that I am not so much asking about whether some evidence would actually convince a court but rather about anything that could be even considered as evidence by any reasonable person or court.
¹ or more precisely: the person who submitted the manuscript