This is a guest blog post by Joe Bhatia, President and CEO, American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
In recent years, issues related to incorporation by reference (IBR) have commanded increased attention, particularly in connection to requirements that standards that have been incorporated into federal laws and regulations be “reasonably available” to the U.S. citizens and residents affected by these rules.
This requirement had led some to call for the invalidation of copyrights for IBR standards. Others have posted copyrighted standards online without the permission of the organizations that developed them, triggering legal action from standards developing organizations (SDOs).
As coordinator of the U.S. standardization system, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) 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. We have been pleased to work closely with colleagues at the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on this issue, as well as the hundreds of SDOs whose standards ensure the quality, safety, and efficiency of products, services, systems, and personnel.
First of All, What Are Standards?
Standards are the backbone of trade, the building blocks for innovation, and the basis for quality, safety, and interoperability. Voluntary consensus standards and compliance activities are essential to the U.S. economy. Market driven and highly diversified, standards support technological innovation, build bridges to new markets, and create gateways for businesses in this increasingly complex world of global access. Standardization also helps to assure health, safety, and quality of life for individuals in the United States and around the world.
Why Does IBR Matter to the Standardization Community?
In all of our collective discussions about the IBR issue, the question we are trying to answer is simple. Why aren’t standards free? In the context of IBR, it’s a valid point to raise. A standard that has been incorporated by reference does have the force of law, and it should be available. But the blanket statement that all IBR standards should be free misses a few important considerations.
First, if SDOs cannot charge for standards, this disrupts the standards development ecosystem . . . and the funding for standards development has to come from somewhere. If participation fees have to be increased to offset lost sales revenue, the result will be significantly reduced participation by those without deep pockets – especially consumers and small businesses. Those with the money will have all the influence.
Even worse, if private-sector SDOs cannot afford to stay in business, the result could be a dangerous lack of standards addressing new technologies or updating of current standards. The government will have to step up, take over what is now a market-driven system, and somehow find the money and expert manpower. Today’s standardization system is balanced and consensus-based… but if the government has to take over, there would be a single, dominant voice driving the decisions that affect our products, services, and systems.
Clearly it is a complex issue, with the potential for far-reaching, significant consequences not just for SDOs, but for government, industry, and society as a whole. As a result, ANSI has made it a top priority to speak to as many members of our community as we can, find out where the SDO community stands on the topic, and work toward a solution that is based on the broadest input and offers the greatest positive impact.
ANSI’s New IBR Portal
On Monday, October 28, we launched the ANSI IBR Portal, an online tool for free, read-only access to voluntary consensus standards that have been IBR-ed into federal laws and regulations.
IBR standards hosted on the portal are available exclusively as read-only files. In order to protect the intellectual property rights of the groups holding these standards’ copyrights, the portal has built in security features that prevent users from printing, downloading, or transferring any of the posted standards; in addition, screenshots will be disabled and the standards will contain an identifying watermark.
For this first phase of the portal, ANSI has secured the participation of thirteen major domestic and international standards developers. Those that have agreed to have their IBR standards directly available on the ANSI IBR Portal include:
- the International Organization for Standardization (ISO);
- the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC);
- the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM);
- the American Welding Society (AWS);
- the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO); and
- the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES)
In addition, seven SDOs have agreed to allow the portal to provide direct links to read-only versions of IBR standards hosted on their own websites. Those organizations are:
- the American Petroleum Institute (API);
- the American Plywood Association (APA);
- MSS – the Manufacturers Standardization Society;
- NACE International - the Corrosion Society;
- the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); and
- UL (Underwriters Laboratories).
With the launch of Phase I of the portal, ANSI expects that many more SDOs – both in and outside the community of ANSI-accredited standards developers – will sign on to participate.
In our discussions with regulators, policy makers, SDOs, consumer representatives, and academia, ANSI has heard that there is demand for a single solution, to make it easy for those affected by any piece of legislation to view the related IBR standards. But at the same time, there is also a strong need to allow for flexibility, so that each SDO can provide reasonable access in the way that makes sense for their business model and doesn’t undermine their ability to function.
ANSI launched its portal to bridge that gap, and we are very proud to present the IBR Portal as one solution to the access issue.
To view the ANSI IBR Portal, visit ibr.ansi.org.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) is a private non-profit organization whose mission is to enhance U.S. global competitiveness and the American quality of life by promoting, facilitating, and safeguarding the integrity of the voluntary standardization and conformity assessment system. Its membership is comprised of businesses, professional societies and trade associations, standards developers, government agencies, and consumer and labor organizations. The Institute represents the diverse interests of more than 125,000 companies and organizations and 3.5 million professionals worldwide.
The Institute is the official U.S. representative to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and, via the U.S. National Committee, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).