The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked a federal judge today to protect the free speech rights of an online archive of laws and legal standards after a wrongheaded copyright claim forced the removal of a document detailing important technical standards required by the federal government and several states.
EFF and co-counsel David Halperin represent Public.Resource.Org, Inc., a non-profit organization that improves the public’s access to laws and codes that affect their lives. As part of its work, Public Resource acquires and makes available public safety documents such as fire safety codes, food safety standards, and other regulations that have been incorporated into U.S. and international laws. But last month, the association of 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 the post be removed. The standards are a crucial element of U.S. federal energy conservation efforts and an integral part of model codes, such as the International Energy Conservation Code. After a threat of legal action from SMACNA, Public Resource took down the document until a court could affirm its right to publish the information.
“The public has a right to meaningful access to the laws that govern their lives,” said Carl Malamud, the president and founder of Public Resource. “Technical standards like the ones in this document have the force of law, and people need to know them in order to comply with regulatory obligations, keep the public safe, and avoid costly penalties. The right of citizens to read and speak the law is fundamental to an informed citizenry in the United States and throughout the world. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, which means we have to be able to read the law.”
In a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief filed today, EFF and Public Resource asked the court to rule that posting the standards does not infringe any copyright.
“Building codes and other technical specifications touch our lives every day, and Public Resource is helping to make it easier for us to access and understand how they affect us,” said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. “We’re asking the judge today to let Public Resource continue its important work in increasing the public’s access to the laws and regulations that govern us.”
For the full petition: