San Francisco - In an ongoing effort to protect free speech and the right of the public to examine the rules and regulations that govern our society, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today announced it will defend open-government advocate Carl Malamud and the organization he founded, Public.Resource.Org, against a copyright lawsuit filed by three standards development organizations. Fenwick & West LLP, Durie Tangri LLP, and David Halperin join EFF as co-counsel.
On August 3, the National Fire Protection Association, ASTM International and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers filed a lawsuit with a federal court in Washington, D.C., alleging "massive copyright infringement" by Public.Resource.Org for publishing codes and standards that have been incorporated into law. EFF argues such standards must be treated as part of the public domain, and Public.Resource.Org has a constitutional right to ensure government accountability by making the documents publicly available.
"Standards organizations get huge benefits from having their standards adopted as mandatory by federal and state regulators," EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz said. "But those benefits don't include the right to control access to those laws."
This isn't the first time Public.Resource.Org has faced legal threats for its work. In Public.Resource.Org v. SMACNA, a standards development organization claimed that it held the copyright in federally mandated air-duct standards and that Malamud's site violated its copyright by publishing them online. EFF and co-counsel Fenwick & West and David Halperin stepped in to litigate the case, and SMACNA promptly backed down.
The stakes are even higher this time around. The standards in question are crucial to the public's interest in fire and electrical safety. Public access to such codes is important when, for example, there is an industrial accident or natural disaster, or when a homebuyer wants to double-check that a house was built to code. Public.Resource.Org publishes the codes in a user-friendly format for not only interested citizens, but reporters, researchers, and business owners.
"Private organizations shouldn't control who can read the law, or where and how they can access it," Stoltz said. "The law belongs to all of us."
With decades of experience as a transparency advocate and eight books under his belt, Malamud founded Public.Resource.Org in Sebastopol, CA, in 2007 and currently serves as the nonprofit's president. In recent years, the organization has focused on obtaining and publishing a variety of legal documents and court decisions to make the law and justice system more accessible to the public.
"Technical standards incorporated into law are some of the most important rules of our modern society," Malamud said. "In a democracy, the people must have the right to read, know, and speak about the laws by which we choose to govern ourselves."
Electronic Frontier Foundation