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Society lifts publishing moratorium on works from embargoed countries

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Newsgathering    

Society lifts publishing moratorium on works from embargoed countries

  • The American Chemical Society has ended its temporary hold on publishing research papers written by scientists in nations under U.S. trade embargoes, in defiance of a government ruling prohibiting the editing of such work.

Feb. 26, 2004 — The American Chemical Society announced last week that it will resume editing and publishing journal articles written by authors in nations under U.S. trade embargoes, despite government restrictions on such actions imposed last September.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control ruled in September that providing editorial services to authors in Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan would violate U.S. trade sanctions.

The American Chemical Society said in November that it would temporarily restrict publishing while it investigated the parameters and legal validity of the ruling, said Robert Bovenschulte, president of the publications division of the ACS.

The society lifted the moratorium on Feb. 17, with praise from the scientific community and the Association of American Publishers, which helped in its study of the ruling.

“This was a contradiction of our ethical guidelines,” Bovenschulte said. “We publish material based on the merit of the research. The national origin of that research has no bearing.”

The American Chemical Society publishes 32 highly technical journals of chemistry and several magazines, including Chemical and Engineering News, which gets distributed to the society’s 160,000 members. The ACS published about 60 of the 200 papers submitted from Iran last year alone, Bovenschulte said.

The ruling permits publication of research from embargoed nations, but prohibits “collaboration” and “editing,” as well as the “facilitation of a review resulting in substantive enhancements or alterations to the manuscripts,” according to the OFAC regulations. Penalties for providing such services to authors in these countries can include fines of up to $500,000 or 10 years in jail.

The OFAC issues licenses to perform the prohibited editing on a case-by-case basis, but Bovenschulte said almost all science publishers have declined to seek such permission.

“This is a classic example of prior restraint on publishers,” he added. “It’s not necessary, and we’re not going to do it.”

In January, the American Association of Publishers issued a legal analysis of the OFAC ruling, declaring it a violation of the First Amendment and the “Berman Amendment.” Passed in 1988 and written by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the amendment exempts information materials from trade embargoes.

“We hope that when it’s all said and done, the administration will decide that this is a violation of First Amendment rights,” Bovenschulte said, noting that several publishers have already formed a litigation task force in the event of any future court battles.

For now, the American Chemical Society will continue to work with scientists from all nations.

“We will continue to publish the way we see fit and the way we have always done it,” Bovenschulte said.


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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