US House of Representatives Considers Copyright Protection for Standards

The House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet held hearings on whether privately developed safety standards later adopted as law can be protected by copyright.

Private organization such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) develop voluntary consensus standards for products and services in the United States, and coordinate US standards with foreign standards so that US products can be used all over the world.

The federal government often applies these voluntary standards in laws and regulations, as do local and state governments.

Some standards organizations have sought to exercise control over their standards under copyright law, even after the standards become part of the law.

Works of the US government, as well as those of state and local governments, are excluded from copyright protection and are in the public domain.  Building codes, for example, are in the public domain and may be freely copied by anyone.

At the recent hearing, the general counsel for ANSI noted that industry groups spend time and money to create complex systems of standards and that they would be unable to continue making this investment without the ability to charge for this content.

“If the government were to take that process away,” she said, “the government would have to provide that expertise … and ultimately the taxpayers would have to pay for that.”

The founder of Public.Resource.Org, a non-profit group that favors free online access to legal codes, testified that charging for access to laws was contrary to “a fundamental principal of our democracy.”

He said, “That the law has no copyright because it’s owned by the people is a principal that has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the courts.”

California Congresspeople Darrell Issa and Zoe Lofgren expressed their concern that citizens should have free access to the laws that they must live under.

Stay up-to-date on the latest Intellectual Property Law news from Sheldon Mak & Anderson.

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