Court ruling: Standards are not free of charge
The Supreme Court of the Netherlands has ruled: Standards are not to be seen as generally binding regulations of the state
(2012-06-28) In its verdict on 22 June 2012, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands ("Hoge Raad") confirmed that standards are not to be seen as generally binding state regulations. For this reason they are not required to be made available to users free of charge, even when reference is made to them in laws.
With this decision the highest Dutch court has confirmed previous rulings on the case by lower courts. These had also judged that NEN standards to which reference made in the Dutch building regulations are not obligatory rules of the state and that consequently, unlike actual rules of the state, these do not need to be published free of charge. Copyright of NEN standards is not affected by their being referred to in legal regulations.
DIN Director Dr. Torsten Bahke welcomes this decision, stating that"Standards are voluntary guides for the benefit of all market participants. They encourage economic self-regulation. Standards consolidate knowledge and promote innovation. In the standardization process, stakeholders such as companies, science and research, consumers, technical associations and public authorities agree on market-oriented rules for safe and efficient products and processes. The standardization process is largely financed by the sale of standards. That is why it is our principle that whoever uses standards should pay for them directly."
The German Copyright Law (UrhG, §5, 3) also says that private standards collections are protected by copyright, even in cases where laws, regulations, decrees or public notices refer to them without citing their actual wording.
The Dutch company Knooble had brought action against the Dutch state and the national standardization institute of the Netherlands NEN, demanding that NEN standards referred to in Dutch building regulations be made available for free. Knooble is of the opinion that demanding payment for standards contravenes copyright law. This says that generally binding state regulations have to be made available free of charge. The court rejected this view outright and explicitly confirmed the copyright protection of private standards.