19
Jul/18

Text of ASTM v Public Resource – DC Circ Decision re Fair Use of Standards Incorporated Into Laws


From the decision: Across a diverse array of commercial and industrial endeavors, from paving roads to building the Internet of Things, private organizations have developed written standards to resolve technical problems, ensure compatibility across products, and promote public safety. These technical works, which authoring organizations copyright upon publication, are typically distributed as voluntary guidelines for self-regulation. Federal, state, and local governments, however, have incorporated by reference thousands of these standards into law. The question in this case is whether private organizations whose standards have been incorporated by reference can invoke copyright and trademark law to prevent the unauthorized copying and distribution of their works. Answering yes, the district court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the private organizations that brought this suit and issued injunctions prohibiting all unauthorized reproduction of their works. In doing so, the court held that, notwithstanding serious constitutional concerns, copyright persists in incorporated standards and that the Copyright Act’s “fair use” defense does not permit wholesale copying in such situations. The court also concluded that the use of the private organizations’ trademarks ran afoul of the Lanham Act and did not satisfy the judicial “nominative fair use” exception. Because the district court erred in its application of both fair use doctrines, we reverse and remand, leaving for another day the far thornier question of whether standards retain their copyright after they are incorporated by reference into law.

 

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