ICC Sues Web Startup for Copyright Infringement


A lawsuit filed by the International Code Council has taken aim at a web startup company that aims to make code compliance easier for architects, construction professionals and building owners.

What’s Been Happening

The ICC—joined by the American Society of Civil Engineers—originally filed the federal civil lawsuit in New York Southern District Court in August 2017 and names web startup UpCodes, along with its founders, brothers Garrett and Scott Reynolds, as defendants in the case.

UpCodes was created in 2016 after Scott, who had been working as an architect, teamed up with his brother to gather code compliance rules in one place.

UpCodes’ main product—an online database—gives free access to codes, updates and amendments from more than 30 states, inclduing New York City. More advanced tools, such as search capabilities, are sold on a subscription level. The site has more than 200,000 subscribers.

In 2018, UpCodes released a new product, UpCodes AI, which is described as a “spellcheck for buildings,” and has the ability to scan 3D models from building information modeling data, picking out potential code errors.

The Lawsuit

In a statement given to PaintSquare Daily News, the ICC said:

“The International Code Council is a non-profit association with over 64,000 members, which through a rigorous, open and transparent process, develops the highest quality codes and standards that make structures safer and more sustainable, affordable and resilient. These codes are relied upon by governmental entities around the world, which on their own may not have the resources or expertise available to fund development of these codes and standards or to keep them up to date. Importantly, ICC offers free online access to its codes because we fully recognize the public has a right to know the law."

While anyone can view ICC codes for free, other functions, such as distribution, are disabled behind a paywall, which is the focus of the infringement argument.

The Reynolds brothers argue that the codes should fall under fair use doctrine, thus protecting them in this lawsuit, stating in a recent press release: “Laws, such as the International Building Codes, govern construction. Every municipality in America has a department that strictly enforces building codes.”

"The lawsuit ICC filed against UpCodes is designed to stop a for-profit company from trying to make money for its owners and investors by utilizing—without paying for—building codes that were created at great expense by others," ICC's statement continued.

"Without copyright protection, creation of the high-standard codes by the ICC would either not be possible because of the substantial costs involved in their development and constant updating, or those costs would become borne by taxpayers. We continually welcome ideas to help make compliance with codes easier and frequently license our materials to third parties that want to innovate. UpCodes has never sought such a license, preferring instead to build a website that sells 'premium access' to ICC codes.”

This brings the question back to whether or not ICC owns the copyright to the codes in the first place, which could find itself being answered at the Supreme Court level.

For now, though, the case is still winding its way through New York under District Judge John F. Keenan, the most recent movement of which was an excess page filing, which took place May 9.


Tagged categories: Building codes; Good Technical Practice; ICC; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; NA; North America; Specification

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