Can Building Codes be Copyrighted?

Startup UpCodes has created a free, searchable database of building codes, and the company is at the center of a lawsuit by the International Codes Council. The ICC writes the most widely used building codes in the United States, and they claim they have copyright over the codes and require a license fee for their use. UpCodes argues it is covered by the fair use doctrine, which permits some use of copyrighted material, but the ICC alleges its copyright and ability to raise revenue is being infringed upon. Central to the lawsuit is the question of whether the law can be copyrighted.

Courtesy of UpCodes

As Curbed recently reported, UpCodes hopes to answer whether building codes are in the public domain or whether they are truly the copyright property of the ICC. UpCodes was founded with the belief that building regulations should be free to read and an open platform for innovators to develop technology. The company's innovations rely on building code being in the public domain. They believe open access is at risk. The International Code Council claims to own a copyright and is suing UpCodes for copyright infringement because the team publishes the code on their website through a free, searchable database of regulations and accompanying tools.

The UpCodes platform pulls from open-source government websites, free code posted to the ICC’s website and scans of code books. The startup’s second product, UpCodes AI, is a BIM plug-in that runs a “spell check” for code requirements using this database. “For architects, access to code hasn’t seen any innovations for 100 years,” says co-founder Scott Reynolds. “This is a very antiquated industry. I think we can solve this with software.” The lawsuit places brothers Scott and Garrett Reynolds, founders of UpCodes, against the International Code Council (ICC), a 64,000-member non-profit that creates model building codes used in all 50 states.

Courtesy of UpCodes

The ICC is currently suing UpCodes in federal court for copying and reposting their building codes. Anyone can access ICC codes via a read-only website for free; anything else, including premium online access and printed books, costs money. The case relates to the Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119, where the federal government encourages federal agencies to rely on privately authored standards and instructs agencies “to observe and protect the rights of the copyright holder.” ICC creates model codes that are adopted by state and local governments. According to the ICC, this kind of public-private collaboration creates the code at no cost to taxpayers. The Reynolds and their attorneys believe that these types of codes, even if they’re adopted via standards-based organizations, should be free and accessible to all; that nobody can copyright the law.

After almost two years of litigation, UpCodes and the ICC have submitted a Motion for Summary Judgement. Both sides will respond with oppositions to the motions on June 28, with final replies to the oppositions on August 2 this year.

News via Curbed

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Cite: Eric Baldwin. "Can Building Codes be Copyrighted?" 03 Jun 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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