A coalition of major publisher and author associations is demanding that the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) revise recently enacted trade regulations that prohibit American publishers from publishing books and journal articles written by Syrian authors. The OFAC regulations, enacted in May of 2014, dictate 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.
In a letter, attorneys for the publishers claim that sanctions violate federal law and the First Amendment, and also constitute a “terrible policy decision,” silencing critics of the Assad regime and opponents of ISIS, while depriving Americans of an opportunity to educate itself about Syria.
The letter was undertaken by the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), the Association of American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Publishers division (“AAP/PSP”), and PEN American Center, which in 2004 filed suit to reverse a similar ban on Cuban, Iranian and Sudanese authors. OFAC later 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. The publishers were spurred to send the current letter when they became aware that new economic sanctions against Syria did not include a carve out that would continue to allow U.S. nationals to engage in publishing activities with citizens of Syria.
“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.