Fire officials reviewing codes

Pro-Codes bill filed to preserve safety code copyright

Two weeks ago, Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced the Pro Codes Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. The proposed legislation reiterates what we know to be true – copyright is protected for safety standards like those we develop. We applaud the introduction of this legislation and will work hard to support its passage.

For some context on why this is so important, it helps to understand what we do and how we do it. As you all know, rigorous safety standards protect lives and property and help foster economic growth. For 125 years, NFPA and other nonprofit standards development organizations (SDOs) like ours have developed standards through a voluntary, consensus-based process at no cost to taxpayers. It has and continues to be one of the most successful public-private partnerships in American history.

Governments at all levels sometimes incorporate privately developed standards by reference as part of their legislative or regulatory process. For example, NFPA’s flagship standard, the National Electrical Code, which has been recognized as the premier standard for safe electrical design, installation and inspection, has been incorporated by reference in all 50 states.

In recent years, some special interests have made the misguided argument that when a governmental body incorporates by reference a privately developed standard, the copyright protection is forfeited. We strongly disagree with this campaign to destroy copyright protection for our works. Our creation and updating of these works provides critical public benefits. Like any other copyright owner, we’re able to fund the creative process by publishing, selling and licensing our standards. Again, the public benefits are enormous: We don’t depend on subsidies or contributions from government or those affected by our standards. This ensures we can be independent and put safety first.

Extinguishing the copyright for standards incorporated by reference would dismantle the current system, which works because our mission is funded by those professionals who use our standards in their work. There are no alternatives anywhere as effective or efficient.

NFPA alone develops more than 300 safety standards through an open, consensus-based process, and that’s just our organization. If SDOs were no longer able to carry out our work, there would be a disjointed and expensive patchwork of safety standards in the U.S. and around the world. Standards would probably be updated less frequently, if they were created at all. It’s no exaggeration to say that lives and property would be lost.

The special interests’ main argument is that providing copyright protection for standards incorporated by reference prohibits free access to “the law.”  This is wrong. The law is authored by legislators. Our standards are privately developed. The special interests trying to destroy our copyright claim that anyone who wants to read what a legislative or regulatory body has incorporated by reference should be able to do so without charge.  NFPA has long championed that view. For years, we have offered free public viewing of our codes and standards online for anyone. The Pro Codes Act recognizes on its face what we believe copyright law has long made clear: copyrights held by organizations like ours are protected when the standards incorporated by reference are available for free viewing on a publicly accessible website.

We’re grateful for Reps. Deutch and Issa’s leadership on this issue, and it’s particularly gratifying to see leaders on both sides of the aisle take up this cause. I think we can all agree that everyone has a right to safety. It may be the most truly bipartisan issue there is.

We’re also grateful to see other influential groups including the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), International Code Council (ICC) and UL join us in supporting this legislation. Many of our colleagues in the fire service are also lending their support.

If you’d like to be part of our efforts to advocate for this legislation, please reach out to Seth Statler, our director of government affairs: sstatler@nfpa.org.

This legislation is important not just for our industry but for the American people who rely on the safety standards we create. We encourage Reps. Deutch and Issa’s colleagues in Congress to join them in swiftly passing this bill. It safeguards a public-private partnership model that truly works to advance safety and save lives.

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James Pauley
President & CEO of NFPA