Academic publishers claimed victory on Wednesday when the U.S. government relaxed rules about printing works from Cuba and other blacklisted countries in response to a lawsuit filed in September.

Publishers now can obtain a newly created “general license for publishing activities,” allowing presses to do business with writers in Cuba, Iran and Sudan instead of having to apply for a license for each work they want to print.

The new policy states that publishers can pay royalties and advances to writers, commission new works, undertake marketing campaigns, and edit, collaborate and enhance works, as well as “other transactions necessary and ordinarily incident to the publishing and marketing of written publications,” said the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

“Previous guidance was interpreted by some as discouraging the publication of dissident speech from within these oppressive regimes. This is the opposite of what we want,” said Stuart Levey, U.S. Department of Treasury undersecretary for the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

“This new policy will ensure those dissident voices and others will be heard without undermining our sanctions policy.”

Literary group PEN American Center, the Association of American Publishers, the Association of American University Presses and Arcade Publishing sued OFAC in September, arguing that the rules were stifling the free exchange of information and ideas betweem nations and cultures.

Presses, they said, were afraid to proceed with projects from Cuba, Iran and Sudan after OFAC ruled in 2003 that copy editing an Iranian engineering paper and submitting it for peer review violated the law, exposing the publisher to fines of up to $1 million and a prison term of up to 10 years.

OFAC later reversed that ruling, but publishers said they needed definitive clarification of the regulation that outlawed “providing services” to embargoed countries, especially in view of the Bush Administration’s crackdown on relations with Cuba and other nations.

Publishers hailed the new policy as a breakthrough that could free up six Cuban projects that were put on ice out of fear that they would incur fines.

“It sounds encouraging,” said Dan Ross, director of the University of Alabama Press. “That’s good news.”

Ross may now be able to proceed with two publications: one on Cuba’s 1825 slave rebellion and another on Cuban archaeology.

Edward Davis, the lawyer who filed the suit, said he was still evaluating the policy’s details but he was especially pleased that OFAC acted so quickly.

“It’s a very constructive response to the lawsuit,” said Davis of New York firm Davis, Wright, Tremaine. “The general thrust allows a large variety of activities.”

The policy still imposes several prohibitions: travel to and from Cuba, opening a sales outlet on the island, contracting a translator or publisher in Cuba, importing or exporting goods other than informational material and engaging in any transaction that would benefit the government of Cuba.

The policy said that academic institutions are not included in the definition of “government.”

Cuba watchers said they did not expect the new policy to usher in a softened stance on Cuba by the Bush Administration, which earlier this year tightened regulations on travel and money transfers to the island.

“I don’t think anyone should read into this that there will be similar policies on other Cuba issues,” said John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade & Economic Council.

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