Indian Publishing Firm Can't Take A Little Criticism, Threatens Blogger With $1 Billion Lawsuit, Criminal Charges

from the how-not-to-make-a-threat dept

Here's a fun one via Popehat. Apparently an Indian publishing firm by the name of OMICS can't take some criticism from a blogger. The blogger, Jeffrey Beall, who is based in the US, has a blog called Scholarly Open Access (he's also a librarian at the University of Colorado, Denver) in which he reviews and critiques various open access programs. As we've discussed, open access is really important for the sharing of knowledge -- but not all open access programs are created equal. In fact, there are serious complaints about many of them. Beall had some choice words for some of OMICS practices, which he claimed involved spamming and bait-and-switch. For what it's worth, Beall is hardly the only one to question OMICS' tactics. The Chronicle of Higher Education discussed OMICS in an article about "predatory" open access journals. As The Chronicle explains:
In 2012, The Chronicle found that the group was listing 200 journals, but only about 60 percent had actually published anything.
OMICS' response to Beall is almost too incredible to be believed, but it threatened to sue Beall for $1 billion and seek criminal penalties as well. Yes, billion with a b -- so insert your Dr. Evil jokes here. Oh, if you're asking under what law?
In India, Section 66A of the Information Technology Act makes it illegal to use a computer to publish "any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character" or to publish false information. The punishment can be as much as three years in prison.
As Ken White points out, the SPEECH Act clearly protects Beall from any ruling in India. We've been waiting for the first attempt to see that law used to protect someone from some insane foreign claim. If you don't recall, the SPEECH Act says that the US will not recognize foreign civil rulings over speech that would violate US law, such as the First Amendment.

Similarly, criminal charges would be meaningless, because any attempt at extradition to India would require dual criminality -- such that the acts would be criminal in both countries. That's clearly not true here (and it's debatable if they're actually criminal in either country).

Amazingly, when asked about this whole thing by The Chronicle of Higher Education, the lawyer representing OMICS, Ashok Ram Kumar, a lawyer with the firm IP Markets, appeared to double down on the threats and insist that he was "very serious" (TM), though various lawyers are a bit more skeptical of that.
"What he has written is something highly inappropriate," Mr. Kumar said. "He should not have done something like this. He has committed a criminal offense."

While Mr. Kumar said he and his client are "very serious" about the $1-billion amount, Jonathan Bloom, a lawyer with Weil, Gotshal & Manges, in New York, said it seemed more like a publicity stunt. "Sometimes people just want to puff their chests, indicate their reputation, and try to intimidate people that criticize them," Mr. Bloom said.
One thing that is clear, however, is that any company that would send out such a ridiculous threat over a blog criticism isn't a company worth trusting. Whether or not they spam and engage in bait and switch or other predatory practices, we do know with certainty that they send out insane legal threats. That's enough information necessary to decide that OMICS is not a company worth supporting.

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