PKP Position on Online Harassment

1. Setting the Record Straight
2. Ben Amini (aka David Green) and openjournalsystems dot com
3. PKP’s Position
4. February 2018 Update


1. Setting the Record Straight

PKP is the official maintainer of OJS, OMP, OCS, OHS, and other software.

Since 1998, PKP has been the source, developer, and maintainer of Open Journal Systems (OJS), Open Monograph Press, Open Conference Systems, Open Harvester Systems, and related software and services.  PKP, which has been based at the SFU Library since 2005, is responsible for coordinating all of the ongoing development and releases of the software, and operating related services such as the PKP Community Support Forum.

We also rely heavily on an extended network of development partners, translators, and members of the PKP user community who contribute freely of their time and effort to the ongoing improvement of PKP’s software.  All of these contributors share the same principles that inform successful open source communities — a strong belief in working collaboratively and freely sharing the fruits of our collective labour.

All PKP software is released under GPL and free to all

In 2016, more than 10,000 active journals were deploying OJS as their publishing platform.  Almost all of these journals operate independently of PKP, having downloaded and installed their own copy of OJS, but there are also numerous academic libraries, scholarly societies, open access consortia, and commercial publishers who have downloaded the software and offer a wide variety of journal hosting and related publishing services.  All of this is enabled by the fact that PKP’s software is released under the GNU General Public License (GPL) which gives users the freedom to run, study, share, and modify our software.  The GPL also requires that any derivative software must also be GPL licensed and, if distributed in any form, made available for free.

PKP has always encouraged others to freely use the software to build local capacity and provide publishing services, irrespective of whether they are offered at no charge or for profit.  We also welcome contributions from other developers who would like to share their OJS enhancements with the wider PKP community.

PKP respects and acknowledges the intellectual property rights of others

Full and proper attribution is a fundamental principle of open source software (and a requirement of the GPL) and PKP strongly supports and adheres to this concept. We make provision for acknowledging code contributions directly in PKP’s source code.  We offer a Contributor License Agreement (CLA) for anyone who prefers a formal acknowledgement of their code contributions. All of the individuals and institutions that provide translations for PKP’s software are explicitly identified on our “Translating OxS” wiki pages.  Our commitment to proper attribution reflects our respect for the intellectual property of others, irrespective of the specific licenses, copyrights, and permissions they have adopted.

PKP holds a registered trademark for Open Journal Systems

In 2014, PKP obtained  trademark registrations for our key terms — Open Journal Systems, Open Conference Systems, Open Monograph Press, Public Knowledge Project — with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.  This step was undertaken when PKP discovered in early 2014 that a company called Paxter LLC (Paxter) had applied to the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to register Open Journal Systems as a trademark.  This application was rejected.  As a result, claims by Paxter that they hold trademark rights that prohibit other OJS service providers from using the term “Open Journal Systems” are unfounded.  Paxter LLC has registered a design mark with the USPTO for a logo which incorporates the words “Open Journal Systems”, but the registration expressly states that it does not grant exclusive rights to the use of these words other than as part of the logo.

PKP software adheres to best practices for web security

PKP follows standard best practices for web security, including consistent use of escaping to avoid XSS attacks, tokens to prevent CSRF attacks, etc. We stay abreast of recent trends in security, and wherever possible, use best-of-breed third-party tools with large communities of support. Our software includes structures to permit authorization policy recombination, ensuring that sensitive content is not exposed beyond the amount required for a scholarly workflow. We are responsive to bug reports, security audits, and community inquiries and welcome any such contributions. We disclose serious security issues, when they are discovered, via each applications’ software download page.  Readers are encouraged to consult the FAQ on the PKP Community Forum on PKP Applications and Security.

A blog article posted on the website for Paxter’s openjournalsystems dot com claims that PKP has serious software vulnerabilities and has not taken any steps to address them.  The same article also promotes two “exciting new security plugins” that were available for purchase from this company.  To be clear, there is no need for OJS users to purchase third party software to operate securely and the use of openjournalsystems dot com products, rather than following our deployment recommendations, may risk exposing private data.   Instructions on addressing the small number of security bugs that have appeared in OJS over the last 15 years and been resolved are available on the PKP website.

PKP support forum is open to all who adhere to the Code of Conduct

PKP’s Community Forum provides a place where users of PKP’s software can post questions and receive support from the PKP team and other knowledgeable members of our user community.  Users also highlight new features they have introduced, share experiences, ask for help, and provide perspectives on many topics.  The forum has a code of conduct to ensure there is a positive and respectful atmosphere, to encourage responsible participation, and to avoid becoming a venue for self-promotional advertising.

Openjournalsystems dot com was banned from the forum in August 2015 after repeated violations of the code of conduct, including advertising and abusive behaviour to PKP staff, and despite several warnings from the PKP moderator to respect the code of conduct.  Nonetheless, a number of  journals hosted by openjournalsystems dot com and their editorial staff continue to participate on the forum and benefit from the expertise of the PKP staff and others who respond to their support queries.

2. Ben Amini (aka David Green) and openjournalsystems dot com

Who?

In the Fall of 2013, an online OJS journal hosting service — openjournalsystems dot com — appeared in Phoenix, Arizona.  Paxter is the company offering this service and the sole registered owner of Paxter is Ben Amini (see Arizona Corporation Commission entry).  Mr. Amini uses the online and public persona of David Green who is generally identified as Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of openjournalsystems dot com.

What?

Openjournalsystems dot com uses PKP’s OJS software to offer commercial hosting and related publishing services such as custom theme and plugin development, content migration, training, troubleshooting, and editorial support.  Mr. Amini is just one of many OJS users — academic libraries, scholarly societies, open access consortia, and commercial publishers — who have downloaded PKP’s software and offer a wide variety of journal hosting and related publishing services.

Why?

Since 2013, PKP, its team members, and individuals in our user community have been subjected to defamatory statements, online harassment, cyber-bullying, and other actions that have originated from Mr. Amini, his aliases (such as David Green) and Paxter.   We have been collectively and personally accused of having done all sorts of inappropriate and even illegal acts, including claims that PKP is attempting to destroy the business of Paxter (even though this business relies on the open source software PKP maintains).   All of these accusations are wholly unfounded.  PKP has made the decision to now say so publicly in order to set the record straight.

No Affiliation

By choosing openjournalsystems dot com as the name for his OJS hosting services, Mr. Amini has caused considerable confusion within the PKP community.  Many have assumed his operation is connected in some way with PKP.   We want to be very clear that PKP is not associated in any way with openjournalsystems dot com or the company behind it (Paxter LLC).

3. PKP’s Position

PKP has decided that it is time to take an open and public approach regarding Mr. Amini’s conduct.  We are sharing with the entire PKP community our side of what has been a one-sided narrative until now.  While we are acutely aware of the limitations of legal tools in maintaining a civil cyberspace, we are prepared to defend PKP and its staff against these unfounded accusations by addressing any of the claims made by Mr. Amini in an open manner.

By taking a public stance we realize it may provide more attention and “viewer share” than Mr. Amini deserves.  However, we think it is more important to provide context and a better understanding of what has been taking place for over three years so that any PKP community member who has encountered Mr. Amini realizes they are not alone.  His behaviour is the antithesis of everything that PKP and our user community represents.

Update: February 2018

Immediately after the release of PKP’s statement at the end of May, there was a major increase in the number of offensive Twitter posts originating from two accounts directly associated with Behzad (Ben) Amini, along with the appearance of at least 5-7 fake Twitter accounts. Anyone who commented on the original PKP statement and/or some of the subsequent Twitter comments suddenly found themselves at the receiving end of some very offensive and threatening Twitter posts. PKP noted that a number of new domain names associated with some of these new harassment targets had been registered. Stanford University email accounts were also spammed with a letter containing the familiar claims of defamation, harassment and business interference by John Willinsky and PKP. By mid-June the harassment had subsided significantly.

In late September/early October, there was a serious escalation, including a sudden increase in offensive Twitter posts directed at SFU and PKP individuals, a new website with extremely defamatory comments about family members of PKP staff, and a threatening phone call.

In response to this escalation, SFU and PKP have been working on the following measures:

  1. SFU’s legal office communicated with Twitter to inform them of the 26 known Twitter accounts used to harass the PKP community during the past three years and asked Twitter to enforce their rules on abusive behavior, i.e. suspend/delete these accounts and proactively deal with any future harassment activities directed at PKP and its users. This action has resulted in the suspension or deletion of Twitter accounts.
  2. PKP has been in communication with other Canadian universities that have been targeted by the same harassment.
  3. SFU Campus Safety & Security has coordinated communications with the local Burnaby RCMP detachment and PKP has prepared a large file of material (emails, screenshots, logs, etc.) documenting the ongoing harassment for review by the police.
  4. SFU’s legal office continues to monitor the situation and consider legal options.

Please be assured that this continues to be a matter of real importance to PKP and SFU. As always, if you have concerns, please feel free to contact us.

Originally posted on May 29, 2017; Updated Feb 14, 2018