Published on March 1, 2017.

Judge finds in favor of NFPA in copyright lawsuit

Court ruling protects process vital to the continued development of public health and safety standards

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A judge has ruled in favor of NFPA and two other standards development organizations (SDOs) that sought to halt the systematic infringement of copyrighted codes and standards.

On February 2, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia granted a motion for summary judgment filed by NFPA, ASTM International, and ASHRAE. The ruling permanently prohibits from its previous practice of posting numerous copyrighted codes and standards online, an infringement of the material’s copyright. The ruling vindicates the long-standing public-private partnership by which government entities may, if they choose, incorporate by reference high-quality safety codes and standards such as those produced by NFPA.

“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,” said Jim Pauley, president of NFPA.

The history of not-for-profit SDOs developing voluntary consensus standards goes back more than a century. Governments, businesses, and individuals across the country rely on a wide variety of works, from product specifications and installation methods to safety codes and standards. SDOs, not resource-constrained governmental agencies, underwrite the substantial costs of developing standards.

“The court’s ruling means federal, state, and local agencies can continue to rely on not-for-profit SDOs to develop voluntary consensus standards at the highest level of excellence and at minimal cost to government,” said Kathie Morgan, president of ASTM International.

SDOs pay for the standard development process and invest in new standards with the money earned selling and licensing their copyrighted works. This model allows SDOs to remain independent of special interests and to develop up-to-date, high-quality standards. It also allows the U.S. government, and governments at all levels, the freedom to decide whether to incorporate these standards by reference without a drain on their limited resources. The unauthorized posting of these documents online, in violation of copyright, represented a significant threat to this proven model.

“We and many other SDOs already provide free online access to many standards as part of our commitment to safety,” said Timothy G. Wentz, president of ASHRAE’s board of directors. “Preventing the infringement of copyrighted material will allow not-for-profit SDOs to continue meeting the needs of the people and jurisdictions we serve.”

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