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The editing of a manuscript is illegal if it comes from Iran, no matter what the subject matter, a federal agency recently told an American organization that publishes scientific journals. But last week, a congressman accused that agency of breaking a law he’d written to guarantee the free flow of ideas. It is illegal to edit works generated by authors in Iran and likely the four other nations that are under U.S. trade embargo, according to rules laid down by the Treasury Department’s office of foreign asset controls (OFAC) that were clarified late last year. The office’s authority comes from a presidential prerogative over national security matters. The theory behind OFAC’s rulings is that U.S. companies shouldn’t provide a service to an author from an embargoed country and that enhancing a manuscript benefits the author, said Nelson G. Dong, a partner in the Seattle office of Dorsey & Whitney. The firm provides counsel to the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), which publishes more than 85 scientific journals. A willful violator could be subject to prosecution and face up to 10 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Unintentional violators face strict civil liability, including fines of $11,000 per occurrence. “Per occurrence” could mean per word, per line or per paragraph, since OFAC has “sole discretion to interpret and implement its regulations,” said Wynn H. Segall, a partner in Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld’s Washington office. Congress reined in that prerogative in an amendment to the Trading with the Enemy Act that was authored by Representative Howard Berman, D-Calif., in 1988, and refined in 1994. The legislation mandated that the president not interfere with the free flow of ideas that do not threaten national security, including informational materials. In his letter, Berman accused OFAC of promulgating regulations affecting scientific organizations that are “inconsistent with both the letter and the spirit of the law. He also reproved the agency for impeding the publication of literary works such as “a book of poems by Iranian dissidents.” “The free flow of information around the world is important to promote open civil societies,” a spokesperson for OFAC said. “We’re looking into how to balance this crucial goal while adhering to our national security concerns and laws.” Segall, who specializes in trade sanctions law, has clients from industries such as electronics and banking. He noted that civil sanctions are routinely levied and informally settled. Adverse publicity and the deference courts pay to OFAC deter companies from challenging its rulings, he explained. While supporting government efforts to protect national security, he asserted that the government has gone beyond its mandate. Regulation targeted One of the agency regulations targeted independently by Berman and Segall was set out in a Sept. 23, 2003, letter from R. Richard Newcomb, director of OFAC, to an attorney in Dorsey’s Washington office. “The collaboration on and editing of manuscripts submitted by persons in Iran, including . . . the reordering of paragraphs or sentences, correction of syntax, grammar and the replacement of inappropriate words . . . is prohibited,” Newcomb wrote. Articles published by IEEE are submitted by scientists and engineers who receive no remuneration. Besides Iran, the other nations embargoed are Sudan, Iraq, Libya and Cuba. IEEE, as it interprets OFAC regulations, is allowed to tell its authors to improve their style or modify their analysis, said Michael Lightner, IEEE vice president for publication services and a professor of electrical engineering at University of Colorado. “We provide a rationale, not a road map,” he said. The American Chemical Society’s publication division was so unsure about what OFAC’s letter to IEEE meant that it called a three-month moratorium on publishing anything from embargoed countries, said the society’s president, Robert Bovenschulte. After a review, it ended the moratorium, concluding that OFAC’s regulations were a prior restraint on its First Amendment rights. “We are not going to ask the government for permission for what we can publish or how we should publish it,” Bovenschulte said. Post’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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