Chronicle of Higher Education

Calling restrictions on publishing contrary to the First Amendment and acts of Congress, a group of publishers’ and authors’ associations expects to file suit today against the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces regulations against countries under a U.S. trade embargo.

The lawsuit, which will be filed in federal court in New York, asks for an immediate injunction against enforcement of the regulations, which require publishers to file requests for licenses to edit articles and books by authors in embargoed countries, such as Cuba, Iran, and Sudan. The suit also asks the court to strike down the regulations.

The Treasury Department office, known as OFAC, has previously justified the regulations on the grounds that editing the papers and books of foreign authors provides them with a service, and thus violates trade embargoes.

The plaintiffs in the case are the Association of American Publishers’ Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division, the Association of American University Presses, the PEN American Center, and Arcade Publishing. Marc H. Brodsky, chairman of the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division, said that months of discussion with government officials had been fruitless.

“Publishers should not have to go to the government to ask permission, or for a license, to publish,” he said in an interview last week.

The issue first came up in December 2002, when the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers asked OFAC whether peer-reviewing and editing journal articles were restricted by trade embargoes.

Congress had exempted “information or informational materials” from embargoes in 1988. But OFAC took a stricter view, exempting only informational materials that were “fully created” by people in embargoed countries, and had not been substantially altered in the United States.

In September 2003, R. Richard Newcomb, then OFAC’s director, told the engineers that peer review was exempt from trade embargoes but that a special license would be required for “activities such as reordering of paragraphs or sentences; correction of syntax, grammar; and replacement of inappropriate words by U.S. persons” (The Chronicle, October 10, 2003).

In April, in response to further letters from the engineers’ institute, OFAC shifted course. Mr. Newcomb wrote that the institute’s form of copy editing and style editing “does not constitute substantive or artistic alteration or enhancement of the informational material” and therefore does not require a license (The Chronicle, April 16, 2004).

But that change of direction has left publishers confused, said Peter J. Givler, executive director of the Association of American University Presses. The April decision was specific to the engineers’ institute, so any publisher whose procedures vary from those of the institute may still require a license.

“It’s just a crazy mess,” Mr. Givler said last week in an interview. “First they say one thing, and then they say another. The rulings seem quite arbitrary.”

Violators of the trade embargo — which could include editors and publishers — face high penalties, with fines up to $1-million and jail terms of as much as 10 years.

Those stiff punishments have led some publishers to back away from authors in embargoed countries. The University of Alabama Press, for instance, suspended publication of two books by Cuban authors. One of them, Dialogues in Cuban Archaeology, had already been completed and peer-reviewed. “It’s quite a disappointment,” said Daniel J.J. Ross, director of the press.

Other publishers have decided to flout the regulations. Mr. Brodsky is also executive director of the American Institute of Physics, which has continued to accept and publish manuscripts regardless of the author’s residence. “We decided we weren’t violating any law,” he said.

He and the other publishers and authors hope the court will agree. “It’s time to clean the books and have the rules of the country in line with the laws and Constitution of the country,” he said.

OFAC had no comment on the lawsuit on Friday and had not yet seen the publishers’ complaint. A spokeswoman emphasized that the office was willing to work with any publishers unsure of whether their activities were banned under trade embargoes.

Copyright © 2004 Chronicle of Higher Education. All rights reserved.

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