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No Copyright on Federal Standards, Group Says

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A trade association's copyright challenge to the online posting of a 1985 air duct manual is bogus because the manual has been "incorporat(ed) by reference" into state and federal standards, a digital rights group claims in court.

Public.Resource.Org sued the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association, in Federal Court. It seeks injunctive and declaratory relief.

Public Resource, represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, claims that in January an agent of the trade group sent it a copyright takedown demand for the 1985 HVAC Air Duct Leakage Test Manual. It posted the information online in July 2012.

The nonprofit plaintiff regularly posts legal materials and government records - including fire safety codes, pipeline safety standards and food safety standards - on its website,

The complaint states: "The 1985 manual identifies leakage limits for ducts and outlines procedures for testing ducts for conformity with air leakage limits set forth in project specification.

"Managing air ducts is crucial to energy conservation and is an integral part of model codes such as the International Energy Conservation Code, as well as a key part of the Department of Energy-specified energy conservation efforts that resulted in incorporation by reference of the 1985 manual."

Public Resource claims it did not infringe on copyright when it posted the manual online, as the information has been incorporated as part of federal and state laws. It says the manual is otherwise unavailable to the public without charge.

Under threat of legal action, however, Public Resource says it removed the manual from the Internet on Feb. 9.

"On information and belief, the United States does not make the 1985 manual available to the general public for free, either online or on request.

"On information and belief, SMACNA does not make the 1985 manual available to the general public for free, either online or on request," the complaints states.

The Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association, an international association of union contractors and a "standards-setting organization," based in Chantilly, Va., has 1,834 members in 103 chapters across the United States, Canada, Australia and Brazil, including eight chapters in California.

The petition "seeks to vindicate Public Resource's right to post online a technical manual, the 1985 HVAC Air Duct Leakage Test Manual ('the 1985 manual'), that has been explicitly incorporated into federal and state law and that articulates specific standards and installation and testing requirements regarding heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems," Public Resource says.

"Technical manuals like the 1985 manual at issue in this case, explicitly adopted by federal regulation, have the force of law and impose affirmative obligations on citizens. As much as landmark health care acts or Supreme Court civil rights decisions, these technical requirement - for building, electrical, plumbing, transportation - touch the lives of Americans every day. Business owners, workers, and consumers need to know these directives in order to operate their businesses lawfully, to avoid penalties, and to determine whether neighbors, contractors, or competitors are in compliance," the complaint states.

Public Resource, based in Sebastopol, Calif., seeks an order enjoining the copyright claim and a declaration that the manual does not infringe on any copyright interest held by the trade association.

Public Resource is represented by Corynne McSherry, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"Building codes and other technical specifications touch our lives every day, and Public Resource is helping to make it easier for us to access and understand how they affect us," McSherry said in a statement. "We're asking the judge today to let Public Resource continue its important work in increasing the public's access to the laws and regulations that govern us."

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