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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2005

U.S. Drops Publishing Rule

The United States Treasury Department has relaxed the rules requiring American publishers to obtain a license to publish the works of academics and authors from countries under trade embargoes.

The decision comes after a lawsuit was filed in federal court in September by several publishers' groups and Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian human rights activist and 2003 Nobel Prize winner, who was seeking to publish her memoirs in the U.S.

Marc Brodsky, executive director of the American Institute of Physics, which publishes 11 journals, welcomed the decision.

"In this country," he told The Chronicle of Higher Education, "publishers do not have to go to their governments and ask for permission to publish."

The decision, released in late December, continues to prohibit commercial transactions with the governments of Iran, Cuba and Sudan, but it specifies the restrictions no longer apply to those countries' "academic and research institutions and their personnel."

The U.S. Congress exempted "information or informational materials" from trade embargoes in 1988, but until December the Bush administration had interpreted the exemption narrowly to include only those materials that were "fully created" by sanctioned writers. Any alteration of a work, however minor, was claimed to be in violation of the trade embargo.

Publishers who edited, paid royalties, added photographs or collaborated with authors in embargoed countries faced fines of up to $1 million U.S. and jail terms of as much as 10 years, if convicted.

That threat prompted a broad coalition of publishers, academic organizations and free speech advocates to join together in fighting the restrictions. In a joint letter issued last year, they argued the restrictions were not necessary to protect the national security objectives of the U.S., nor were they likely to persuade embargoed countries to adopt policies that advance U.S. interests.

"Indeed, it appears that the restrictions serve no purpose other than to keep Americans ignorant of work done by scientists, writers and artists in certain parts of the world," said the organizations, in their letter.

Background: Bulletin report, October 2003, archived online.