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December 03, 2004

Refereeing and U.S. Trade Embargoes

This 2003 Treasury letter saying that an American editing a book for an Iranian author is a violation of the U.S. ban on trade with Iran has been causing quite a fuss. The ban explicitly exempts "information and informational materials", but that leaves open the question of helping Iranians create information. The Treasury ruling says that it woule be OK to publish an Iranian book, but not to alter or enhance it, or provide "marketing and business consulting services".

The issue comes up for professors because some people fear that this rules out refereeing and editing articles for scholarly journals, even though there is no payment to authors for those articles. But this fear was unfounded, and the policy has been clarified. An April 16, 2004 Chronicle of Higher Education article ($) says,

The U.S. Treasury Department has ended months of confusion among scholarly publishers by ruling that an engineering society may edit, without restriction, articles written by authors in countries under trade embargoes.

The apparent reversal of government policy, which previously had forbidden editing without a special license, should also allow other scholarly publishers to edit articles written by authors from countries such as Cuba, Iran, Libya, and Sudan, according to a Treasury official....

In 1988 Congress exempted "information or informational materials" from trade embargoes, but the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, known as OFAC, took a narrower view, exempting only those materials that had been "fully created" by people in the embargoed countries and that had not been significantly altered in the United States....

OFAC ruled last fall that "the reordering of sentences, correction of syntax, grammar, and replacement of inappropriate words by U.S. persons, prior to publication, may result in a substantively altered or enhanced product, and is therefore prohibited." At the same time, the office ruled that peer review does not alter or enhance a manuscript, and therefore is not restricted by trade embargoes....

The Treasury official stressed that the new ruling came as a result of OFAC's understanding the editing process better and, with that understanding, being able to conclude that editing does not significantly alter the manuscripts.

Posted by erasmuse at December 3, 2004 10:06 AM

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