January 21, 2022

American Publisher, Author Groups Call For Revision of Federal Regulation Prohibiting Publication of Books, Articles Written by Syrian Authors

The full text statement posted below arrived today from three U.S. publishing organizations.From AAUP, AAP/PSP, and PEN American Center:

A coalition of leading publisher and author associations has written to the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) of the Treasury Department demanding that it revise trade regulations that effectively prohibit American publishers from publishing books and journal articles written by Syrian authors.

The Association of American University Presses (“AAUP”), the Association of American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Publishers division (“AAP/PSP”), and PEN American Center (“PEN”) have condemned the portion of the amended and re-issued Syrian sanctions regulations dictating that American publishers may not enter into transactions for Syrian works not yet fully completed, may not provide “substantive or artistic alterations or enhancements” to Syrian works, and may not promote or market Syrian works.

“The Syrian Sanctions Regulations violate federal law and the First Amendment,” the letter states, “and by severely restricting the ability of American publishers to publish works by Syrian academics, dissidents, and opponents of the Assad regime and/or ISIS, make a terrible policy decision at odds with this country’s longstanding traditions at a time when the American public most needs to educate itself about Syria.”

In light of the important First Amendment values at stake, Congress twice passed laws making clear that OFAC has no authority to regulate “information or informational materials.”

In 2004, the coalition sued OFAC for similar trade sanctions governing works penned by authors in Iran, Cuba, and the Sudan. OFAC quickly revised those regulations and created a general license permitting all publishers to engage in any transactions “necessary and ordinarily incident to” publishing and marketing written works from those countries, with limited exceptions. When the coalition agreed to voluntarily dismiss the suit, OFAC stipulated that it would “take [similar] policy considerations into account in the event that it issues regulations pertaining to additional countries under trading sanction.” Despite that stipulation, OFAC failed to include such protections in recent Syrian sanctions regulations – imperiling the U.S. publication of many valuable political and scientific publications.

“It would be utterly self-defeating for the Administration to prevent U.S. publishers from releasing the types of works cited in our letter,” said Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of PEN American Center. “These include a scholarly article, ‘Syria in Revolt,’ from a prominent Syrian intellectual, an English PEN award-winning anthology from Syrian writers and artists challenging the current culture of violence, medical articles on antibiotic resistance, and other scientific articles in peer-reviewed scholarly journals by highly regarded academics.”

“Syrian authors make vital contributions to the advancement of knowledge in numerous scientific fields, including medicine, geology, agriculture, and the study of ancient civilizations. It is imperative that Syrian scientists and doctors continue to be a part of the world community in their fields, and that American scholars continue to be able to collaborate with them,” said Mark Seeley of Elsevier, a member of PSP. “We encourage OFAC to swiftly revise the regulations to protect our member’s right to publish authoritative scholarship from across the globe in all fields of inquiry,” said Peter Berkery, Executive Director of AAUP.

Direct to Full Text of Letter to OFAC From Coalition (Dated December 23, 2014; 18 pages; PDF)

Direct to Announcement Posted Above (via AAUP)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.