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Saturday, March 13, 2004

Editing as a Criminal Act

The act of editing is a straight-forward affair. Take a submitted work, look for spelling and grammar errors, correct factual details and tailor for style. Either through traditional means of shipping a manuscript, or with technology providing a global means of exchanging text, an editor could review material created in just about any country. And, in the past, the country of origin has not been an issue when publishing material in the US. But that has changed.

The U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control has been sending letters to publishers warning that editing material from Iran and other countries not in good standing with the US may constitute trading with the enemy.

The New York Times published an article, Treasury Department Is Warning Publishers of the Perils of Criminal Editing of the Enemy, talking about the letters sent by the Treasury Department and warning of the prohibited editing acts. "Anyone who publishes material from a country under a trade embargo is forbidden to reorder paragraphs or sentences, correct syntax or grammar, or replace 'inappropriate words,' according to several advisory letters from the Treasury Department in recent months...

...Adding illustrations is prohibited, too. To the baffled dismay of publishers, editors and translators who have been briefed about the policy, only publication of 'camera-ready copies of manuscripts' is allowed."

The Chronicle of Higher Education has published in its weekly edition the reaction of Rep. Howard L. Berman to the current reading of the law.

"...Rep. Howard L. Berman, a California Democrat, wrote to the U.S. Treasury Department on Wednesday decrying its position that simple editing represents a prohibited service to authors in embargoed countries...

...Mr. Berman wrote to OFAC's director, R. Richard Newcomb, that the office's interpretations of the Berman Amendment 'are clearly inconsistent with both the letter and spirit of the law' and called the restriction on editing 'patently absurd.'"

If the Treasury Department does change its stand, Breman may introduce new legislation.

Amber Withycombe, Associate Director of the International Institute of Modern Letters at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, provided a response to the news: "We find the Treasury Department regulations very distressing, and are monitoring legal challenges to them. While the regulations do not affect any of our current or upcoming publishing projects, an organization that we help fund, Words Without Borders (www.wordswithoutborders.org), is hoping to publish an anthology of "Literature from the 'Axis of Evil.'" We are very anxious to learn if this project will be affected. WWB featured excerpts from the proposed anthology in the September issue of their online magazine.

Recently, some Bush Administration officials have taken some criticism for suggesting that the US economy benefits by shipping jobs offshore. But that just may be one solution to new regulations. In order to have material for their publications without risking sanctions from the Treasury Department, American publications could be forced to use foreign editors to create their "camera-ready copies of manuscripts".

posted by Mr. Kimberly at