A number of construction standards-writing organizations are declaring victory in their ongoing battle to protect their work.
On Feb. 2, a Washington, D.C., federal appeals court ruled that buildings codes developed by groups such ASHRAE, the American Society for Testing Materials International and the National Fire Protection Association do not lose their copyrights when they become part of construction rules.
The groups had sued because nonprofit PublicResource.org had posted the codes to its website, making them available to anyone without compensation for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers or the other organizations that created them. Typically, a copy of such standards can run $30 or more.
PublicResource had argued that you should not have to pay to get a copy of rules that you are required by law to follow. In 2013, the group tussled with the Sheet Metal and Air-Conditioning Contractors’ National Association over the same issue.
While acknowledging public access to regulations they must follow is a concern, Judge Tanya S. Chutkan noted that Congress has not said that privately developed technical standards lose copyright once adopted. Nor is it required that such standards must be free, she added.
“In establishing ‘a system of online access to the Congressional Record (and) the Federal Register,’ Congress authorized the superintendent of documents, under the direction of the director of the Government Publishing Office, to ‘charge reasonable fees for use of the directory and the system of access,'” the judge wrote.
NFPA President Jim Pauley praised the decision.
“We are very pleased with the court’s thoughtful and well-reasoned decision, which recognizes the importance of a time-tested process that serves governments and individuals well and is vital to public health and safety,” Pauley said.
Kathie Morgan, president of ASTM International, pointed out that the judge’s ruling saves governments from the time and expense of creating codes.
“The court’s ruling means federal, state and local agencies can continue to rely on not-for-profit SDOs (standard development organizations) to develop voluntary consensus standards at the highest level of excellence and at minimal cost to government.”
Tim G. Wentz, ASHRAE’s current president, added that the cost for copies most building codes is not onerous for interested parties.
“We and many other SDOs already provide free online access to many standards as part of our commitment to safety,” Wentz said. “And, preventing the infringement of copyrighted material will allow not-for-profit SDOs to continue meeting the needs of the people and jurisdictions we serve.”