Liberating America’s secret, for-pay laws
Parts of US law that engineers need to know in order to do their jobs are secret – you are only allowed to read them if you pay thousands of dollars for the right to find out what the law of the land is.
Did you know that vital parts of the US law are secret, and you’re only allowed to read them if you pay a standards body thousands of dollars for the right to find out what the law of the land is?
…When Peter Veeck posted the Building Code of Savoy, Texas on the Web, the standards people came after him with a legal baseball bat. The standards people run private nonprofit organizations that draft model laws that states then adopt as law, through a mechanism known as incorporation by reference.
Peter thought the people of his town should be able to read the law that governed them. But the standards people were adamant that the model building codes were their copyright-protected property and that nobody could post this information without a license, nobody could copy their property without paying the tollmaster.
The U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed, saying that there is a “continuous understanding that ‘the law,’ whether articulated in judicial opinions or legislative acts or ordinances, is in the public domain and thus not amenable to copyright.” Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress, 293 F.3d 791 (5th Circuit, 2002).