This had been mentioned on FR earlier. Frankly, as one on technical committees with many an "international" whose English is not always perfect, I'm glad to see this gone (even though we have nobody from those countries right now).
This law would have made it a crime for me to take a proposed addition to a technical standard made by one of these nationals, edit if necessary (it always is, "standards English" has its own rules), submit it for public review, and if accepted incorporate it into the standard, as my job requires me to do.
How could this possibly be considered Constitutional? Has it come before the courts?
The First Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; ....
The society praises ruling it doesn't need a license, but others raise free-speech concerns
Revamping a ruling that angered the publishing world last fall, the government has told a Piscataway technical society that its publications do not need a license to edit scholarly articles from scientists in Iran, Cuba, Libya and Sudan.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers yesterday hailed the decision by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control as a victory for free speech, ending a saga that began more than two years ago.
"I'm extremely pleased," said IEEE President Arthur Winston, whose group has 360,000 members in 170 nations. "It's hard not to be. It's what we wanted."
But other editors and publishers said the latest government decision is narrowly drawn and could, in fact, ride roughshod over press freedoms. They said the ruling suggests U.S. scientists could risk hefty fines and jail time, under U.S. laws against trading with the enemy, if they collaborate with authors from embargoed countries without first securing a license.
Martin Blume, editor-in-chief for eight journals published by the American Physical Society, called the new ruling "a Pyrrhic victory."
By approving IEEE editing practices -- practices that may differ from those of other publishers, who fear they still could be singled out -- the government is crossing the line and stepping on press freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, said the Association of American Publishers, the Association of University Presses and the PEN American Center, in a joint statement.
OFAC -- a powerful agency that has fined Playboy, Wal-Mart and the New York Yankees, to name a few -- told the IEEE last September it could publish papers from Iranian scholars but not edit them. Activities like "reordering of paragraphs or sentences, correction of syntax, grammar and replacement of inappropriate words" amounted to a prohibited service, agency Director R. Richard Newcomb wrote at the time.
The IEEE applied for a license to edit, while seeking more clarification from OFAC. The engineering group brokered a meeting between OFAC and publishers in February, and met again with the government last month.
"Today's ruling makes clear that scientific communities in sanctioned countries may publish their works in U.S. scholarly journals. This process is vital to promoting the free flow of information within the global community of scholarship," Newcomb said in a prepared statement yesterday. He said his clarification, issued Friday, stemmed from talks with the IEEE and the State Department.
In a five-page letter to the IEEE, Newcomb said spelling and grammar corrections, along with certain formatting and labeling procedures, are allowed under provisions of the Berman Amendment. That 1988 law, updated in 1994, exempts from trade sanctions exchanges of informational materials.
IEEE copy editing is exempt, Newcomb wrote, because it "does not constitute substantive or artistic alteration or enhancement of the informational material and is intrinsically related to and necessary for its dissemination through publication."
Likewise, he said scholarly articles from embargoed nations can go through peer review -- scrutiny by U.S. experts for scientific merit -- "provided such activity does not result in the reviewers' substantive or artistic alterations and enhancements of the manuscript."
But the government would deem it a violation "when a collaborative interaction takes place between an author in a sanctioned country and one or more U.S. scholars resulting in co-authorship or the equivalent thereof," Newcomb wrote.
That language bothers publishers.
Eric Swanson, a senior vice president for the publisher John Wiley & Sons Inc., in Hoboken, called OFAC's clarification useful but noted: "We remain concerned about government attempts to constrain scholarly collaboration across borders. We believe the freedom of scholars to work together and publish their works is very much in the national interest."
"The idea of going to the government for permission to publish is not one we cherish," said Mark Seeley, a counsel for Reed Elsevier, publisher of 1,800 scientific journals. A legal challenge to OFAC has not been ruled out, he said.
Lynne Rienner, whose small publishing company in Colorado includes Iranian feminists and Cuban historians on its book roster, welcomed Friday's ruling. "I'm relieved," said Rienner. "I was very nervous. I was going to forge ahead -- but quietly."
An Iranian chemist, meanwhile, said scientists in Iran still await restoration of membership privileges revoked by the IEEE in January 2002, when embargo questions were heating up. At the time, the IEEE had about 1,700 members in Iran; today, that number is down to 200, according to the organization.
Iranian members have been denied access to IEEE databases, and no longer can hold conferences under the organization's aegis.
"There still are many outstanding restrictions. It's not clear when (the IEEE) will remove those," said Fredun Hojabri, president of the California-based association of Iran's Sharif University of Technology.
The IEEE is reviewing its Iranian policies, said Winston, a physicist at Tufts University in Massachusetts. The organization has taken heat for pursuing a federal license at all. Winston said the action was required to protect the mostly volunteer staff that edits the 120 journals in computing, telecommunications, energy and other disciplines.