Standards and copyright

What is copyright?

Copyright can be defined as a set of personal and proprietary rights owned by the author, allowing the author to decide who, how, and under which conditions their works are used. Copyrights are classified as personal and proprietary copyrights. Personal copyrights are linked to the author’s right to name themselves as the creator of a work, make decisions about using their own name on a work, but also with the right to allow others to make changes to the work, dispute any distortions, etc. Proprietary copyrights include the right to reproduce the work, the right to distribute the work, the right to translate and process the work, the right to create collections from the works, the right to publicly perform and exhibit the work as well as making the work available to the public. In Estonia, everything related to copyright is regulated by the Copyright Act.

Standards are protected by copyrights

Very often, it is wrongly thought that standards are public documents that can be used and distributed without any limits. In fact, standards are objects of copyright and the rules of copyright protection must be followed when using them.

Who owns the copyrights to standards?

Standards are the result of collective work. Different interested parties contribute to standard preparation, such as members of technical committees, experts from respective fields, etc. All these people own a part of the standards copyrights. While the personal copyrights of standard compilers will remain with them, then in official standardisation proprietary copyrights will always be transferred to a relevant standardisation organisation – ISO or IEC in case of international standardisation, CEN or CENELEC in Europe, national standardisation organisation in case of a national standard, e.g. Estonian Centre for Standardisation. CEN and CENELEC share the copyrights, transferred to them by standard compilers, with their national members. Additionally, the national members of ISO and IEC will share their copyrights with international umbrella organisations. Therefore, the proprietary copyrights of the ISO and IEC standard are collectively owned by ISO or IEC. The copyrights of European standards are owned by CEN or CENELEC. The proprietary copyrights of original standards are usually owned by the national standardisation organisation that issued the standard.

Why are standards protected by copyrights?

The need for protecting the copyrights of standards arises mainly from the following:

1. to ensure the wholeness of technical information included in standards;

2. to ensure the financing of standard compilation and the standardisation system.

For many standardisation organisations, including the Estonian Centre for Standardisation, revenue from the sale of standards is an important source of income. As most standardisation organisations are non-profit associations, revenue from the sale of standards is always put into developing new standards, improving standardisation-related services and the availability of standards, translating standards into local languages, etc. Therefore, the sustainable operation and development of the system requires that the resources used by standardisers would not be reduced due to the illegal distribution of standards.

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

It means that reproducing and copying the standard is prohibited without written permission (including publishing standard texts or parts thereof in other publications; making them available on websites, in servers; forwarding them via e-mail to more people than allowed in the user agreement included with electronic standards or printing out more copies than allowed). Electronic standards always include a user agreement which specifies the allowed and prohibited activities.

Adhering to the standards, i.e. designing your products based on standards or developing service or processes, is free. Solutions described in the purchased standards can be implemented repeatedly in the future.

Obligations of the Estonian Centre for Standardisation in ensuring the protection of standard copyrights

The main requirement for CEN and CENELEC as well as ISO and IEC members is that the standard copyrights would be protected in the country. A national standardisation organisation must ensure that the publishing right of the standards would belong to the organisation. Distributing the standards must be done in such a way that would ensure the protection of common copyrights and would not harm the rights of CEN, CENELEC, ISO or IEC members. All standardisation organisations have thereby established rules for standard distribution. To notify the standard users, all standards distributed by the Estonian Centre for Standardisation include texts, stating that the standards are objects of copyright and that the right of reproduction is owned by the Estonian Centre for Standardisation.

If you have any doubts about whether your planned activities are in accordance with standards copyrights or you want to use the standard texts in some other way than for your own use, please contact Estonian Centre for Standardisation.