Will the National Electrical Code be Free?

From the SCTE (CATV engineers) mailing list.

On June 26th, 2003 the US Supreme Court declined to take up an appeal from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of SBCCI (Southern Building Code Congress International) vs Peter Veeck.

In summary - Veeck maintains a web site for his area in Texas. Two small towns adopted by reference a SBCCI model building code as their building code law. Veeck then purchased a copy of the standard from SBCCI and posted it on his web site for free downloading. SBCCI sued for copyright infringement, and won at the district court and three-judge Fifth Circuit court. However Veeck appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court for an en banc (all judges instead of the original three), and in that hearing Veeck won and the court reversed the decision.

The rationale of the Fifth Circuit was that once something becomes "the law" it must be freely available to the people. The essence of the decision is that any jurisdiction can make a standard/code its "law", and by doing so effectively wipes out the rights of the copyright holder.

NOTE: the US Solicitor General was asked for an opinion, and based on talking with US Federal agencies - who had widely varying opinions - chose to support the Fifth Circuit decision.

There are two likely things to come out of this. First of all, anyone (at least anyone in the Fifth Circuit, which is Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana) who wants to can apparently buy things like the NEC, NESC, or other codes and make the freely available on the web. Second, organizations like NFPA, IEEE, ASTM and other organizations that develop standards that get adopted as law will have to develop a completely new business model since the majority of their revenue comes from the sale of the documents. Those of you who participate in the NEC, for example, may now find that you have to pay significant dues in order to make up for lost NFPA revenue.

Mike Holt’s Comment: Wow. I called the attorney for the NFPA, but he is on vacation until July 7, 2003. I’ll keep you posted on the NFPA’s position on this issue.

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