Free Speech Battle Over Publication of Federal Law

Free Speech Battle Over Publication of Federal Law
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

Wrongheaded Copyright Claim Blocks Online Posting of
Important Technical Standards

San Francisco – The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
asked a federal judge today to protect the free speech
rights of an online archive of laws and legal standards
after a wrongheaded copyright claim forced the removal of a
document detailing important technical standards required
by the federal government and several states.

EFF and co-counsel David Halperin represent
Public.Resource.Org, Inc. (, a
non-profit organization that improves the public’s access
to laws and codes that affect their lives. As part of its
work, Public Resource acquires and makes available public
safety documents such as fire safety codes, food safety
standards, and other regulations that have been
incorporated into U.S. and international laws. But last
month, the association of Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning
Contractors (SMACNA) claimed an online post of a
federally-mandated 1985 standard on air-duct leakage
violated its copyright and demanded the post be removed.
The standards are a crucial element of U.S. federal energy
conservation efforts and an integral part of model codes,
such as the International Energy Conservation Code. After
a threat of legal action from SMACNA, Public Resource took
down the document until a court could affirm its right to
publish the information.

“The public has a right to meaningful access to the laws
that govern their lives,” said Carl Malamud, the president
and founder of Public Resource. “Technical standards like
the ones in this document have the force of law, and people
need to know them in order to comply with regulatory
obligations, keep the public safe, and avoid costly
penalties. The right of citizens to read and speak the law
is fundamental to an informed citizenry in the United
States and throughout the world. Ignorance of the law is
no excuse, which means we have to be able to read the law.”

In a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief filed
today, EFF and Public Resource asked the court to rule that
posting the standards does not infringe any copyright.

“Building codes and other technical specifications touch
our lives every day, and Public Resource is helping to make
it easier for us to access and understand how they affect
us,” said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne
McSherry. “We’re asking the judge today to let Public
Resource continue its important work in increasing the
public’s access to the laws and regulations that govern

For the full petition:

For this release:

About EFF

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading
organization protecting civil liberties in the digital
world. Founded in 1990, we defend free speech online, fight
illegal surveillance, promote the rights of digital
innovators, and work to ensure that the rights and freedoms
we enjoy are enhanced, rather than eroded, as our use of
technology grows. EFF is a member-supported organization.
Find out more at


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