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Thursday, October 04, 2007

More on applying trade embargoes to scientific editing

Peter Monaghan, Publishers and Treasury Office Settle Suit Over Restrictions on Authors in Nations Under Embargo, Chronicle of Higher Education, October 3, 2007 (accessible only to subscribers).  Excerpt:

In steps that could help end a long-running dispute over how American publishers of academic books and journals may deal with works submitted by scholars in some "enemy" countries, the U.S. Treasury Department has issued new regulations clarifying publishers' rights, and it has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by several groups representing publishers and authors.

The department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, known as OFAC, published the new regulations in the Federal Register on August 30, and on Monday it agreed to settle the lawsuit, which was filed by the Association of American University Presses and other groups after a series of earlier decisions by that office that had imposed various conditions on publishers regarding works by authors in countries under U.S. trade embargoes.

The earlier regulations, which dated from 1999 but were not widely publicized until 2003, required American publishers to get prior government approval, in the form of a license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, before editing manuscripts submitted by authors in embargoed countries. The rules also restricted other services, such as paying royalties to or collaborating with such authors, and adding photographs to or otherwise enhancing the value of their work. The regulations carried stiff penalties for violators: Editors, publishers, and even officers of academic organizations that acted as publishers could face fines of up to $250,000 and up to 10 years in jail.

The regulations at first required publishers to obtain a special license on a case-by-case basis before editing or publishing work by authors in Cuba, Iran, or Sudan. In 2004 the regulation was eased to require only a more easily obtained "general license" for dealing with such works. (Burma was added to the list of restricted countries in 2005.)

In this week's settlement agreement, both OFAC and the plaintiffs have won victories, to some degree symbolic. The treasury office will keep its general-license requirement, which appears to be a formality other than in unusual cases involving military sensitivity or direct involvement of embargoed foreign governments in research papers, and it will continue to restrict publication in those cases. The plaintiffs won a stipulation that works published in electronic formats enjoy the same protections as those published in print. Previously, the regulations had not specifically included digital publications among the kinds of "informational materials" that could be freely traded by Americans.

While the lawsuit had challenged the office's authority to impose even a general-license requirement, representatives of the plaintiffs applauded the settlement....

Comment.  This is one issue on which I see eye to eye with the publishers.  It was a scandal that the Treasury Department ever applied trade embargoes to scientific editing, as if ironing out an awkward sentence or fixing a diction error were analogous to exporting munitions.  The settlement is a major step forward, but the continuing requirement for a government license to edit manuscripts submitted by scientists from "enemy" nations is a serious impediment to the freedom of the press and the dissemination of research.  For background, see my many previous posts on this long-running controversy.

Update. Also see the press release on the settlement from the AAP/PSP, AAUP, PEN American Center, and Arcade Publishing.