Around two years ago, when mathematics researcher Jean Ecalle submitted a paper to Acta Mathematica Vietnamica, he saw that he had the option of making the paper open access. So he checked a box on the submission form — which included a mention of the fees that he apparently missed — and didn’t think anything of it.
The paper “Eupolars and their Bialternality Grid” appeared online in October, 2015.
So Ecalle was quite surprised when, sometime later, he received an email from a representative of the publisher saying he owed 2,640 Euros. He responded in January 2016, guessing what the fees might stem from:
All you did by way of “editing” was to substitute the US spelling for the UK spelling in my paper, and make a few more insignificant changes of this nature. That certainly doesn’t warrant a bill of 2.640 Euros!
Let me repeat: I didn’t order anything from you; didn’t receive anything; and won’t pay anything.
In September, the publisher explained that by opting for “open access,” he was automatically billed for the publishing costs — 2,200 euros, along with any additional fees. But Ecalle didn’t think that the completed form had specified that choosing “open access” meant he would owe fees, so he had no idea he would be expected to provide such a huge sum. But that didn’t matter to the representative of Springer Nature, who told him:
Please be informed that open choice cancellation is not possible after publication. Your article is freely available to everyone, everywhere at SpringerLink and no subscription is required to read and cite it.
Ecalle responded, saying there had been a misunderstanding, and asked that the publisher take his article off open access, but Springer Nature declined. When Ecalle, based at the University of Paris – Sud, did not pay, on December 22, 2016, a representative from the collections department at Springer Nature threatened him with legal action:
Please note that we will give our claim to the legal department and debt collection agency if we should not receive your payment in time. You should be aware that there are further costs involved, such as interest fees and administrative fees for the legal action. In order to avoid this you should remit the outstanding amount immediately.
Earlier this week, Benoit Kloeckner, another mathematics researcher at the University of Paris – East, posted an article about Ecalle’s experience on Google Plus. Springer Nature responded to that post, sharing a screenshot of the Springer Open rights transfer and order form from the time when Ecalle submitted his paper (click to enlarge):
Yesterday, Ecalle told us the episode has, thankfully, been sorted out:
Be that as it may, I am glad to say that, thanks to Benoit Kloekner’s intervention, the matter has just been resolved. This very morning, Springer sent me a conciliatory email, backing off from their threats, and informing me that they had reformatted their online ordering forms in such a way as to preclude similar equivocations in the future.
As of today, the paper is still marked “open access.”
Springer Nature tells Retraction Watch that they do not comment on individual cases but that they had been in touch with Ecalle to discuss his concerns. A representative said:
We’ve taken care to ensure that the Article Processing Charge is clearly marked on the form that an author submits after acceptance of the article. This is to make sure that the authors are clear on what they are committing to.
Our general policy is that after issuing our original invoice, we wait a designated period of time for the invoice to be paid. If the invoice is not paid, we send out reminders. At a certain point of non-payment, we indicate that the case will be handed over to a collecting agency. This note as well as the involvement of collecting agencies is common business practice.
Like Retraction Watch? Consider making a tax-deductible contribution to support our growth. You can also follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, sign up on our homepage for an email every time there’s a new post, or subscribe to our daily digest. Click here to review our Comments Policy. For a sneak peek at what we’re working on, click here.