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Standards and copyright

What is copyright?


Copyright may be defined as a set of moral and economic rights held by an author, enabling the author to decide who may use her/his work, how and on what conditions. Copyright is divided into moral and economic copyright. Moral copyright pertains to an author’s right to designate her/himself as the creator of a work or decide the use of her/his name on a work but also to the right to allow other persons to make changes in a work, dispute any distortions and the like. Economic copyright includes the right to reproduce a work, the right to disseminate a work, the right to translate and alter a work, the right to assemble collections of works, the right to publicly perform or exhibit a work and also the right to make a work available to the public. In Estonia, matters pertaining to copyright are governed by the Copyright Act.


Standards are protected by copyright


It is often mistakenly believed that standards are public documents that may be used and disseminated without any restrictions whatsoever. In actual fact, standards are subject to copyright, and their use has to follow the rules on the protection of copyright.


Who holds the copyright to standards?


Standards are the result of collective work. Various interested parties contribute to the preparation of standards: members of technical committees, experts in the relevant fields etc. All these parties hold a part of the copyright to standards. If the moral copyright to a standard is retained by those who prepared it, the economic copyright is always handed over to the relevant standardisation organisation in official standardisation – these organisations are ISO or IEC in international standardisation and CEN or CENELEC in Europe, whereas it is a national standardisation organisation, such as the Estonian Centre for Standardisation, for a national standard. CEN and CENELEC share the copyright, granted to them by those who prepared the standards, with their national members. Also, national members of ISO and IEC share the copyright with their international umbrella organisations. Consequently, the proprietary copyright to ISO and IEC standards is collectively held by ISO together with its members or IEC together with its members, respectively. The copyright to European standards is held by CEN or CENELEC together with their national members. The económic copyright to homegrown standards are mostly held by the standardisation organisation that issued the standards.


Why are standards protected by copyright?


Mainly, the need to protect standards by copyright is due to the following reasons:
1. ensure the integrity of the technical information contained in standards;
2. ensure the financing of the preparation of standards and the operation of the standardisation system.
For many standardisation organisations, just like for the Estonian Centre for Standardisation, proceeds from the sales of standards is a significant source of revenue. Since most standardisation organisations operate on non-profit bases, the proceeds from the sales of standards are always channelled into the development of standardisation, via the development of new standards, improvement in the availability of standardisation-related services and standards, translation of standards into local languages or the like. Accordingly, to ensure the sustainable operation and development of the system, it is important that illegal dissemination of standards should not result in a reduction of the resources at the disposal of standardisation bodies.


What does it mean that a standard is protected by copyright?


When it comes to standards, it mainly means that the making of illegal copies of a standard is prohibited. Above all, no standards or important sections of standards must be reproduced without explicit written permission; nor must extracts be made of standards in any other manner (including the publication of the texts of standards or sections thereof in other publications, brochures or the like). Electronic standards may not be made available at any one time to more persons than permitted under the user agreement included with the electronic standards. For example, texts of standards must not be made publicly available on websites or servers, they must not be disseminated by email and no more printouts must be made of electronic standards than permitted. A user agreement specifying permitted and prohibited activities is always included with electronic standards. Adhering to standards, that is, designing and manufacturing one’s products or developing one’s services or processes in accordance with standards, is free of charge. Hence, whoever has purchased a standard may subsequently apply the designs described in the standard again and again.


Duties of the Estonian Centre for Standardisation in protecting the copyright to standards


One of the key conditions for membership in CEN and CENELEC as well as in ISO and IEC is that the copyright to standards in the relevant country has to be protected. The national standardisation organisation must ensure that the right to publish standards is held by the organisation. Standards have to be disseminated in a manner that ensures the protection of the joint copyright and does not prejudice the rights of members in CEN, CENELEC, ISO or IEC. As a result, all standardisation organisations have established rules for the dissemination of standards. To inform users about standards, included with all standards disseminated by the Estonian Centre for Standardisation are statements that the standards are subject to copyright and that the right to reproduce them is held by the Estonian Centre for Standardisation. Included with the electronic versions of standards is a user agreement specifying the terms and conditions of use.
If in doubt whether any activities proposed by you are consistent with the copyright to standards or if you wish to use the texts of standards in a manner other than for your own use, contact the Estonian Centre for Standardisation.
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