Standards bodies explain why they think the law should be copyrighted and paywalled


Public Resource is being sued for publishing building standards that the public is legally required to follow. These standards were developed by private-sector industry bodies who make millions off of access fees charged to the public. In other words, a large block of American law is privately owned, secret, and accessible only for a fee. Three Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) are suing and they've released a statement to the media explaining why the law should not be free for all.

The SDOs underwrite the substantial costs of developing standards, in whole or in significant part, by relying on revenues from the sales and licensing of their copyrighted standards. This funding model allows SDOs to remain independent of special interests and to develop up-to-date, high quality standards.

An article in the Washington Post's Wonkblog by Lydia DePillis delves more deeply into the issue:

There are various pieces of administrative precedent and case law in different courts that support either side. Essentially, though, it’s a question of principle vs. practicality: Code is law, Malamud says, and it’s owned by the public. But good code is also expensive, the standards development groups maintain, and charging for copies is the least bad way to pay for it.

(Thanks, Carl!)

Notable Replies

  1. If only there was some magical way that the public could pay for things...a way to, like, collectively pool our funds so that we could afford to pay professionals to support the public interest. Almost like one of those "taxes" that I've heard of...

    Nah, that'll never work. KICKSTARTER.

  2. Why is letting an SDO copyright standards and profit from their publication "less bad" than paying for the development of these standards with tax money?

    If I have to follow a standard, then it should be freely available to me. This SDO thing vaguely reminds me of the Vogon construction crew's contempt for humans ignorance of the plans to destroy the earth in Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

  3. Should everyone pay for it, or only those people who build stuff to the standard? It's an age-old question of taxes vs fees. We all pay for it one way or the other.

    I personally am fond of visiting my public library to read a page of the code book if I need a tiny bit of expensive information.

  4. So they want to overturn Edict of Government?

    Edict of government is a technical term in United States copyright law that refers to laws (in a wide sense of that term), and determines that they cannot be protected by copyright. It is based on the principle of public policy that citizens must have unrestrained access to the laws that govern them......

  5. They cover the substantial cost of developing standards? Bullshit. I've been an active participant in standards development. Participant companies and agencies cover the cost of standards development. We covered our own travel, testing, prototype development, every last pfennig. Standards conferences were sponsored by local groups or companies out of their own funds. Participating companies & agencies pay membership fee to join ANSI and ISO. The only thing that that ANSI or ISO pays for is the publishing & distribution.

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