The American National Standards Institute is now allowing access to standards that have been incorporated by reference (IBR) into federal laws and regulations.
The standards will be available at the ANSI IBR Portal, which will offer free, read-only access. Thirteen major standards setters, including the ISO and International Electrotechnical Commission, have agreed to make their IBR standards directly available on the portal. Seven more standards bodies, including ASHRAE and Underwriters Laboratories, are using the portal to provide direct links to read-only versions of IBR standards hosted on their own websites. ANSI expects more standards setters to sign on.
According to ANSI, IBR issues have gained increased attention in recent years, especially because of requirements that such standards be reasonably available to US residents. Some activists have posted copyrighted standards online, leading to lawsuits by standards bodies. On August 3, ASTM, ASHRAE and the National Fire Protection Association filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging “massive copyright infringement” by Public.Resource.Org. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is helping to defend Public Resource.
Despite the tension between the groups, ANSI president and CEO S. Joe Bhatia said the question of “why aren’t standards free?” is a “valid point to raise.” ANSI framed the IBR Portal as a considered response to the transparency concerns, providing access to those standards cited in law while also protecting standards bodies’ revenue streams.
If this release doesn’t satisfy Public Resource, then the lawsuit is likely to continue. ANSI doesn’t look likely to make more concessions any time soon, or to stop taking umbrage at the unauthorized publication of its standards. The organization took the occasion of the portal’s announcement to rather pointedly remind readers that it has “taken a lead role in informing the public about the reality of free standards, the economics of standards setting, and how altering this infrastructure will undermine U.S. competitiveness.”