Public Resource kickstarting free, open publication of the world's safety standards

We've written often about Carl Malamud, the rogue archivist who has devoted his life to making the world's laws, standards, and publicly owned information into free, accessible, beautiful online documents. Now, I'm pleased to help him launch an ambitious, vital Kickstarter project aimed at raising at least $100,000 to turn the world's public safety codes into thoroughly linked, high-quality HTML documents (presently, many of the 28,040 public safety codes that Carl and public.resource.org have put online exist as scanned bitmaps that can't be searched or linked). The project involves a careful re-typing of all that scanned material and re-tracing of images and formatting them as vector-based SVG files.

Carl and his colleagues have fought in the courts for their right to publish the law that we, the people, are expected to follow. They have passed on lucrative careers in the private sector to devote themselves to public interest, public spirited work that makes the sourcecode for the world's governments available at our fingertips. The work they are doing unlocks untold billions in value -- from being able to ensure that your weekend DIY rewiring project meets code and won't burn down your house, all the way up to giving workers in deadly factories in Bangladesh access to the laws that are supposed to be honored in their workplaces.

$115 gets you a copy of their giant, amazing book of global safety standards, but there are interesting and awesome premiums at price-ranges from $10 (public acknowledgement on the Wall of Safety) to $475 (the Big Box of Propaganda!). I've put in my $115 -- not for the book, but as a way to thank Carl and co for the amazing work they do, and as a means of funding more of it. I hope you'll give, too.

3 Examples of What We're Doing

We've been doing this for several years, and there are many examples of our work on-line at law.resource.org. Here's 3 examples:

Public Safety Codes of the World: Stand Up For Safety!

Notable Replies

  1. It'll be interesting to see what happens when someone is prosecuted for disregarding safety standards, and their defence is that they relied on an open copy. Would building insurance be granted to a person or a firm who has his home of place of work commissioned solely relying on text from pirated standards? The cost of these standards is surely ε to any legitimate business. Is there any project that has failed to go forward solely due to the cost of purchasing safety standards?

    Is the intention of the project to produce a copy of record for academic study, similar to a library, or is the idea that trading business concerns will use the open versions to avoid buying their own copies?

    Can these standards already be consulted free of charge in a public library, or inspected at the institutes who publish them?

    How much does it cost to produce and maintain a safety standard? There's probably legitimate full-time work for an editor to compile and manage these standards in each field, there's also probably committee work involved in revising the standards and incorporating new knowledge.

    I wonder if open access / uncharged access, in the absence of a government grant, is really the best approach? e.g. Music piracy does hurt the bottom line of artists who only publish studio albums (and more so their labels who fund a cohort of artists on the grounds that not all will achieve commercial success), however artists can compensate for the loss of income from record sales by touring, accepting piracy as free advertising for their more entertaining live shows.

    I can't see a safety standard going on tour to make up for lost sales to piracy, and I also think that standards for safe buildings and electrical wiring, medical equipment, etc. have an importance beyond the next Miley Cyrus album. If piracy of safety standards is effective and causes the maintenance of current safety standards to become uneconomical, who actually gains in the long run?

    If paid music production stopped or diminished, life would go on. It's not essential that we have music. If the system that produces safety standards go bust, we'll impoverish our society in the long run, or, if we want to maintain publication of safety standards in an age where they can't be sold to the public, we'll end up shifting the cost onto the tax payer.

    I wonder, from the many 'disruptive' activities that one could engage in, is disrupting the economics of publishing safety standards a particularly wise target?

  2. In many cases the development of the standards in question was paid for by public monies, yet monopolistic "standards" organizations that provide no added benefit are allowed to charge outrageous reproduction fees. You think this is a good thing?

    That if once you have paid him the Danegeld,
       You never get rid of the Dane

  3. I could BitTorrent a load of medical text books which represent the "secret" laws governing how to be a licensed surgeon - having those PDFs doesn't make me qualified to start transplanting kidneys.

    I think in Bangladesh, the problem was not that standards were unavailable due to their cost, and so that no one knew better, or that there is no government body tasked with enforcing them, it was the conscious decision by the factory owners to bribe the local government to ignore their duty to ask whether standards are being followed.

    The headquarters of the business that owned the Savar factory was itself constructed without planning permission, was ordered to be demolished two years ago, and yet this order has not been enforced. It's very naive to claim that transcribing free copies of a safety standard would alter the course of events in Bangladesh.

  4. I think someone addressed that in a comment on a older posting. I shall quote him here.

    "mle292 says:
    July 13, 2012 at 6:56 pm
    As a licensed construction trade worker, I must stress that there is a significant difference between a code book and a “manual.” A manual is a guide meant to help a user. Building codes are technical documents meant to limit an installation to an acceptable safe standard. Those documents are best interpreted by people who are familiar with the style in which they are written, and who are experienced with common, efficient methods for the relevant field.

    Based on direct experience, I do not believe that the general public can
    normally be entrusted with the leeway to interpret building codes
    accurately and safely without oversight.

    With all that said – Though I disagree entirely with the premise upon which your conclusion is founded, I still agree with the conclusion. Public codes should be publicly available. Charging a high fee does not prevent unadmittedly unqualified people from doing what they’re going to do, and an easily referenceable and citable document would make the enforcer’s task that much easier. "

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