Copyright Week: the law shouldn't be copyrighted


There is a whole mode of broken thinking that needs to be erased from consciousness of the people of the earth. Copyrighting material owned by the people would be an example of a broken idea that needs to go.


I hate to be a devil’s advocate here, because in principle, I completely agree with you. The law shouldn’t be copyrighted.

But in my career, environmental engineering, we deal with a lot of EPA regulations which have adopted a standard developed by ASTM. Since the standards were developed by a private company, they are copyrighted, and my company has to pay that company in order to keep up with the law. This is bad.

But the alternative to adopting standards developed by a private company is the government developing them itself, and as far as I can tell, this will cost just as much money to do as it would cost the private company. The issue that I see here is that now, everyone is paying for that standard to be developed, even though the vast majority of the population will never need to reference those standards.

Yes, I honestly believe that everyone should be allowed to access the law. But since most people wouldn’t need to, or even want to, access those sector-specific copyrighted laws, isn’t it more fair to have only the professionals in that sector pay for their development?

I agree wholeheartedly that the law should be freely available to those governed by the law.


Should regulatory bodies have the ability to take copyrighted content and distribute it without compensation?

To make a more tangible example, should a government agency be able to take property without compensation? Why do people make such a fuss about agencies taking property under eminent domain while in the next breath say that copyrights should be ignored? Defense contractors manufacture tangible goods, under contract, for the good of society and for which they are well compensated. (Their CEOs make a lot of money too.) Why should copyrighted materials created by standards developing organizations be treated any differently? Why should these products, and only these products, be taken without compensation?

Yes, much of the work done in developing a standard can be done by volunteers. But that’s not the whole of it. The standards organization has costs as well.

The six principles of Copyright Week includes “you bought it, you own it.” Well, you didn’t buy this one. You don’t own it.

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No. Everyone has the sovereign right and ownership of the law, public legal texts, etc. No exceptions. You can not define the need or want of people. You can not take something away something from someone whether they need or want a thing or not. How would you know what they need or want? What is mine is mine and always mine. You may not take anything away every. No exceptions.

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The system as it is right now does have some advantages.

I don’t want to pay for a bunch of codes that I have no ability to use. For example, the ASME spent a lot of money developing the standards for building nuclear reactors (ASME Section III). The government has legislated that these private standards must be followed when building stuff related to nuclear reactors. If the standard has to be freely copyable (they are all freely viewable right now), the government would have to either develop their own rules or license the ASME rules. Either way, it means your taxes are going up and the big companies are basically subsidized by the tax payer.

Philosophically, I’m opposed to having laws refer to private standards but pragmatically and financially, I’m ok with it.

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The Feds need to make a Creative Commons law outlawing copyrighting laws.

Why should it be bad for the public to pay for the development of standards that benefit the public as a whole?

Sure your average person doesn’t need to read building codes themselves, but they still benefit from not having their house catch fire or fall down on them.

It’s a very strange system in which we have private companies writing the law, and then selling said laws for profit, with the threat of government enforcement of said laws to compel people to buy them. If you want to have a private company write the law (presumably they have more expertise than the government), then that’s fine, it should be paid for in full directly by the government and immediately released into the public domain. That’s the only system that makes sense, everything else is ripe for abuse and full of conflict of interest.

Theoretically this system has higher taxes, because the government has to collect the money to pay for the standards, but in the end the price paid should even out about the same because everybody uses the standards (indirectly) and the cost is just hidden in something else, like higher than otherwise necessary home inspection fees.


Agreed. If standards are to be made part of the law, then the developer/owner of the copyrighted material should be compensated.

“Isn’t it more fair to have only the professionals in that sector pay for their development?”

No it isn’t. For one thing, I should be able to know what safeguards are and aren’t in place for products and services I use. For another, in the age of makers and DIYers it shouldn’t involve huge startup costs to tinker with making things for your own use, for example. I shouldn’t need to pay for a building code if I want to make changes to my own home, for example. Since we all benefit from these standards existing and the costs are passed from professionals to their customers anyway, I think the standards should be communally paid for and then freely available.


Do you benefit from the existence and implementation of standards relating to nthe construction and operation of nuclear reactors? (hint: the answer is ‘yes’, even if you never ever read the thing). Since you benefit, you should pay (through taxes) and since you’re paying you should have access to it.

It is indisputable that the operators of nuclear power plants probably benefit from the existence of those standards, and that they should therefore pay more than you (again, through taxes) but they should be the only ones.

Also; call it a cost of doing business. If you want to operate a nuclear power plant, then fuck it: you need to develop and then abide by standands, AND make those standards freely available to everyone else.

The point of copyright is to protect original work from being stolen and sold by others long enough for the original author to recoup the costs of creating said work. It was devised at a time when printing books was very expensive and rampant content theft was occurring. This was the case especially in schools where a textbook would come out and someone would just reprint it as their own and sell the duplicates.

Using that definition, once the standards group is paid for their work, and the standards they wrote are incorporated into public law, shouldn’t the copyright be null?

More broadly, copyright terms need to be vastly reformed to reflect their original intention. This I think would destroy the entertainment industry as we know it, but that may be for the better.

If I want to remodel my house myself, I shouldn’t have to pay for the legal requirements I have to comply with. To me, that just isn’t right. To have it that I cannot even think about it without someone having paid money to buy a copy of the law (such as a library) so I can read it is just crazy.

The government did not say to a contractor “Develop and write some standards but we won’t pay you; instead you will get paid by those who read what you wrote.” No. The contractor is paid to develop and write it and ownership should belong to the government or to the public, who paid for the work.

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Because tax cuts! Tax cuts! Government is the problem!

In order for government to employ enough experts to write a good code, and then release it into the public domain, somebody would have to be taxed. And those somebodies would prefer not to be.

It sounds like the only other solution is to have the actual users of the code pay for access, because those experts have to paid somehow. You can’t drown the government in a bathtub and then ask it for free stuff.

That isn’t at all how it works. The ASTM, ASME, etc… are not government contractors (generally). They are industry groups that have existed for far longer than any laws deferring to the industry standards have existed.

So when you say ownership should belong to the party who paid for the work… well that’s exactly the situation we have now.


Usually, the industry standards are not directly part of public law. Rather the law will defer to industry standards because, after all, what does the government know about building elevators?

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Many of the standards are available in read-only form on line and every one of them is available at your local public library.

I benefit more from less taxation than I do for having the engineering codes for boilers be publicly copyable (contrary to what Doctorow says, you don’t have to pay to read them).

The idea that anytime someone benefits from some work, somebody else should pay is asinine. That’s the logic that keeps getting copyright terms extended.

Don’t care. Paying is part of owning. Raise taxes on people with money, you know, the one responsible for the need of these laws. This is a republic and it going to cost money. Otherwise we can talk about the merits of anarchism.