Freeing the Law with Public.Resource.Org
"Technical standards incorporated into law are some of the most important rules of our modern society. In a democracy, the people must have the right to read, know, and speak about the laws by which we choose to govern ourselves.”
—Carl Malamud Founder, Public.Resource.Org
The law belongs to all of us. Private organizations shouldn't control who can read the law, or where and how they can access it.
Public.Resource.Org (“Public Resource”) posts online codes and standards that have been incorporated into law—an activity in the public interest and protected by the First Amendment. Twice last year, private organizations that develop these standards (often with the help of public officials) have sent their lawyers after Public Resource, insisting that copyright law forbids Public Resource’s activities.
With EFF’s help, Public Resource is fighting back.
The lawsuits started when the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors (SMACNA), claimed an online post of a federally mandated 1985 standard on air-duct leakage violated its copyright, and demanded Public Resource take it down. EFF and co-counsel Fenwick & West and David Halperin stepped in to litigate the case, and SMACNA promptly backed down, settling the case on favorable terms for Public Resource.
A month later, three more professional standards organizations filed a lawsuit alleging Public Resource had engaged in "massive copyright infringement" when it published a variety of codes and standards (e.g., the National Electrical Code) that have been incorporated into law. This litigation continues, and Durie Tangri has joined Public Resource’s legal team.
Courts have long since declared that no one owns the law, and that’s a good thing. If we must all abide by the law—including these basic standards for building, fire safety, electrical safety, and so on—then we must all have the ability to access it freely, without fees or restrictions. That is why, as a matter of law and policy, standards, like any law, are part of the public domain. Public Resource has the right to publish them—as do you.