Publishing Matters

Elsevier urges US gov to confirm that publishing is exempt from trade sanctions

Letter – and support for industry communications – focus on “freedom of expression” concerns in scientific publishing

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Mark Seeley is Elsevier's SVP and General Counsel and Chair of the Copyright and Legal Affairs Committee of the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM).We wanted to update you on our "freedom of expression" concerns with regard to scientific publishing and trade sanction laws (particularly those of the United States).

You may know that we filed a request with the US government agency OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) in September 2013 requesting clarification on the application of the sanctions exception for publishing activities. (See the stories "Elsevier urges US government to respect 'freedom to publish' amid sanctions" and "Trade sanctions against Iran affect publishers.")  

Those regulations, formulated in 2007, were very helpful but, in our opinion, not clear enough as regards the question of "government employee" authors and further how that exception applies as new sanctions are applied (for example, should it be understood to apply automatically to Russia when and if new sanctions are applied against Russia)? We noted that in most countries, universities and research institutions are government-funded.

In December 2014, we filed a new letter to OFAC requesting clarification (see below). The letter (from the firm Davis Wright Tremaine, who were of counsel to publishing and writers groups in the litigation against OFAC for its trade sanctions restricting publishing in the mid-2000s) noted the background of that litigation and framed the resulting regulations in that context. 

Our December letter clarified the requests we are making of the US government in this connection, namely:

  • With government researchers — confirmation that the exception should apply where the researcher is conducting research and engaging in publishing activity on her or his own behalf;
  • Clarification that government "research institutes" may include government ministries; and
  • General confirmation of the scope of publishing activities and government authors.

In this letter (presented in full below), we noted that:

Elsevier continues to object, as a matter of principle, to any regulations containing blanket restrictions on publishers and authors preventing them from engaging in routine publishing activities. … Scientific and medical discoveries come from all corners (countries) and they should be fostered and published.

We also supported yesterday's communication on the part of the trade associations AAP (Association of American Publishers), AAUP (Association of American University Presses) and PEN America (the writers organization for free expression) concerning recent Syrian trade sanctions and the ambiguity about whether the publishing exception is applicable. 

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For more information, contact Mark Seeley (m.seeley@elsevier.com)

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Read Elsevier's letter to OFAC

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Elsevier Connect Contributor

Mark Seeley is Elsevier's SVP and General Counsel and Chair of the Copyright and Legal Affairs Committee of the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers (STM). He is based in Waltham, Massachusetts.

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