The International Code Council is embroiled in a lawsuit against the startup UpCodes, and the end result could affect how architects make decisions.
By Bill Millard
Potential productivity benefits for architecture, engineering, and construction may depend on the outcome of copyright litigation by the International Code Council (ICC) against San Francisco-based startup UpCodes. The firm, which aims to reduce perceived bottlenecks in the implementation of the nation’s 93,000 building codes, faces charges that its public posting of codes undermines the public-private partnership that develops them.
The nonprofit ICC, which prepares the International Building Code and other model codes adopted by multiple jurisdictions, contends that UpCodes has appropriated its property and “does not need to violate ICC’s copyrights to further its claim to innovate,” an anonymous ICC spokesperson commented for this article through its public relations firm. UpCodes regards its practice as fair use, citing precedents establishing that information “incorporated by reference” into law (the applicable legal term) enters the public domain. Other appeals courts, ICC counters, have protected copyrights in cases it considers comparable.
The suit involves a tension that jurists have long recognized in copyright law: the need for material support and incentive for creators (who have exclusive rights “for limited times” under the Constitution’s copyright clause) versus the need to prevent monopoly control from stifling the circulation of ideas. The conflict pits ICC’s interests in codebook development and sales, and its assertion that its website already provides adequate access, against UpCodes’ interests in expanding access and linking codes with building information modeling (BIM) systems.