Court decision threatens code developers’ copyrights

September 04, 2002 |

Building codes enter the public domain once they’ve been adopted by a local jurisdiction, according to a recent decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. In Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI), the court ruled in favor of Texan Peter Veeck, who posted SBCCI’s building codes on his Web site after the code had been adopted by his local municipality.

A lower court had upheld Veeck’s action, prompting SBCCI’s appeal, which included support from other code-writing organizations including the National Fire Protection Association, the American National Standards Institute, Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. These groups argue that removing their copyright protection from published standards would be denying income the organizations need to fund future standards research. The court ruled, however, that once adopted by a jurisdiction, the codes become part of that jurisdiction’s law-and, “the law is in the public domain.”

Standards organizations are now considering the ruling’s implications, and their strategies for pursuing further appeal, which could include a Supreme Court review.

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