|Is the National Electrical Code in Public Domain?
|Copyright - Durand & Associates
Should the National Fire Protection Association be Running Scared?
On June 27th
the US Supreme Court refused to review the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
ruling that building codes, when enacted into law, could not be copyrighted.This
would indicate (at least in the 5th circuit) that all building codes enacted
into law are now in the public domain. This would include the National
Electrical Code (NEC).
What is at stake here are the revenues generated
from codebook sales under the exclusive control of a single organization. Prior
to 1965 both the National Board of Fire Underwriters and the NFPA published the
NEC. In 1965 a copy of the NEC could be purchased for $1.00. Now 40 years later
the NEC cost $59.50. This is an increase of 6,000 percent.
To put this
in perspective in 1965 the minimum wage was $1.25 per hour. If the minimum wage
had gone up 6,000 percent the employees at McDonalds would be making $75 per
The National Fire Protection Association performs a valuable
service but the ever-increasing cost of the products such as the 2002 National
Electrical Code seems way out of line.
Has the NFPA Use Public Domain
In reviewing previous editions of the National Electrical Code
(1940-1959) we found no Copyright notices on codebooks published by the National
Board of Fire Underwriters (NBFU). Under US Copyright law "works first published
before 1978, the complete absence of a copyright notice from a published copy
generally indicates that the work is not protected by
Beginning in 1956 we found codebooks published by NFPA that
have a Copyright notice. This would seem to indicate that the NFPA was claiming
a 1956 Copyright for the NEC even though the National Electrical Code has been
in public domain since it's inception.
Is the NFPA Using Public Domain
Property to Create a Monopoly?
In 1956 the NFPA began to seek royalties
or license fees for reproduction or use of the National Electrical Code. A
statement appears in the NFPA's 1956 edition of the National Electrical Code
that allows governing bodies to republish the code, however, publication by
other parties are instructed to contact the NFPA.
From 1956 through 1959
the National Board of Fire Underwriters also printed copies of the National
Electrical Code. These copies contained no Copyright notice and no licensing or
reproduction notices. Again the NBFU seemed to offer the National Electrical
Code in the public domain.
In the 1962 the National Board of Fire
Underwriters added the following statement to their printing of the National
Electrical Code. "The text prepared by a committee of and copyrighted by the
National Fire Protection Association, is the same as that published in NFPA No.
70, 1962 edition."
In 1965 the American Insurance Association (formerly
the National Board of Fire Underwriters) discontinued the publication of the
National Electrical Code. Also in 1965 through 1968 the Compson Code Company of
Landsing, Michigan offered a separate printing of the 1965 National Electrical
Code. This would seem to indicate the NFPA was now receiving royalties or
license fees for the reproduction of the code.
From 1965 through 1975
McGraw-Hill Book Company was printing the National Electrical Code Handbook,
however, we are unable to determine if McGraw-Hill paid any royalties or license
fees. In 1978 the NFPA began publishing the National Electrical Code Handbook.
From 1956 through 1965 the price of the National Electrical Code
remained at $1.00 per copy. After 1965 the NFPA was the sole producer of the NEC
or received license fees for republications. The cost of the codebook in 1965
was $1.00 and by 1971 the cost had climbed to $3.50, which is a 350% increase.
During that same time, minimum wage climbed from $1.25 per hour to $1.60 per
hour or a 30% increase.
The 1965 NEC was 433 pages, and the 1971 NEC was
536 pages, an increase of 24 percent, however, the price increased 350%.
NFPA Revokes Permission to Print Code as Law
In the 1987
edition of the NEC the NFPA deletes a licensing provision that allowed governing
bodies to republish the code. Beginning in 1987 governing bodies that adopt the
NEC into law can do so only by "Adoption by Reference." The NFPA defines
"Adoption by Reference" as the citing of the title and publishing information
This has the effect of the NFPA claiming copyright and sole
ownership of laws adopted throughout the world. It was this kind of copyright
claim that prompted the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that building
codes, when enacted into law, could not be copyrighted.
Let's take a
look at how we got here.
1. In 1897 the first National Electrical Code
2. In 1911 the NFPA took over the Code as
3. In 1956 the NFPA put a copyright notice on their NEC book
and granted permission for governing bodies to adopt and freely re-print the
4. Prior to 1962 NEC Code books published by National Board of Fire
Underwriters contained no copyright notice licensing provision.
1965 the NFPA became the sole producer of the NEC or received license fees for
republications. (Exception governing bodies were given permission to re-print
6. In 1987 the NFPA revokes the right of governing bodies to
re-print the Code.
7. In February of 2001 the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals rules that building codes, when enacted into law, cannot be copyrighted
8. June 27th the US Supreme Court refused to review the 5th U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals ruling.
Mike Holt's Comment: Interesting
Copyright © 2002 Mike Holt Enterprises,Inc.