Copyright issues remain after Supreme Court declines review

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Saturday, January 1, 2005

QUINCY, Mass. - The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case involving how protection of copyrighted work is affected once the material is adopted into law, leaving open the possibility that the court could clarify the issue in the future.

For organizations that develop and sell codes, such as the National Fire Protection Association, the resources derived from the sales of its copyrighted materials fuels further development and day-to-day operations, such as payroll and overhead.

“We and other standards developers are watching this with concern,” said Maureen Brodoff, vice president and general counsel at the NFPA.

Founded in 1896, NFPA has created more than 300 fire prevention codes and standards that have been adopted not only in the United States but also abroad. In addition to the organization’s publishing activities, it conducts research and provides education for fire and related safety issues.

The issue stems from a lawsuit involving the Southern Building Code Congress International and Peter Veeck. SBCCI requested Veeck remove its material from his personal web site, after he posted certain codes developed by SBCCI that were adopted as law by two towns in Texas - Savoy and Anna.

SBCCI is a nonprofit organization that develops and revises codes for the standard building, fire prevention, gas, mechanical and plumbing fields.

SBCCI sued to force Veeck to remove the material, and the matter was brought before U.S. District Court, which ruled in SBCCI’s favor. The U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit later overturned in Veeck’s favor, citing SBCCI’s copyright cannot exclude access to information that is law.

The Fifth Circuit covers the territories of Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

In a similar case involving Practice Management Information Corp. and the American Medical Association, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit determined that Practice Management could not publish without violating copyright medical procedure code developed by AMA.

The U.S. Supreme Court would be inclined to take the case, according to Brodoff, given the inconsistency of the courts in the United States on this issue.

“There’s a certain amount of uncertainty right now,” said Brodoff. “There’s no final resolution with this issue. It’s a wait and see proposition.”