Sunday, September 28, 2008

Copyright and the Building Code

The Chronicle reported this weekend that a Sebastopol man named Carl Malamud has taken the California Building Code and made it available at his website for free. California licenses the building code from the International Code Council, a nonprofit that creates, updates, and sells uniform codes (covering generally construction-related subjects like plumbing and electricity) to local and state governments worldwide. Unlike other codes, which are developed by people working on behalf of the government, the building codes and other allied codes are licensed; ICC retains copyright ownership of the codes.

This means that California can't put the building code online with the rest of the Code of Regulations. People are responsible for abiding by the building code, however, so they must either buy a copy from the ICC or come in to the library and use the copy that the state provides, gratis, to every California State Documents Depository library.

Some of the claims in the article are misleading; despite the cost to purchase the Building Code and a few other licensed codes, the vast majority of codes and regulations at the local, state, and Federal level are available for free online, and everything else can be found in many libraries. Even the handsome version of the U.S. Code that we have here in the library, which is bound and annotated, costs a couple of zeroes short of the quoted $6 million.

It's anyone's guess as to whether or not ICC will sue Malamud and, if they did, who would win. It's clear that Malamud is not respecting ICC's claim of copyright ownership for the code, but perhaps his argument that the code is law and law must be free would win favor in the courts. Perhaps California can renegotiate with ICC to include online access to the Building Code, or perhaps the state could create its own code rather than licensing from ICC. What do you think? Please leave comments.


Unknown said...

Carl Malamud has done well to bring attention to this problem. Following the building code is difficult enough without having free and easy access.

p.s. Great blog!

SFPatentLibrarian said...

Thanks, stillearning. Judging by folks' reactions to the Building Code at the reference desk, I'd say many people share your sentiment!


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