Re: Proposal to charge for commercial use of ISO country codes?
There are a bunch of grey areas here. Let's take 3166-1 (the
country code list) as an example.
ISO sells the 3166 standard, as they sell most of their other
standards, and does so for relatively serious money (paper or
PDF of 3166-1 from ISO would cost CHF 148, plus, if I recall,
some handling fees, but (national) member bodies may sell it at
other prices). If one wants the 3166-1 code list in "database"
form (Microsoft Access), they want CHF 148 for that too, with a
package price if you want both the database and the PDF version.
The Internet community has never been really hot on the idea
(Carl Malamud's many efforts are excellent examples), but ISO
supports a lot of its efforts by selling standards, and this is
just an example. Nothing to be done about the costs of those
standards other than continuing to point out that it may not be
strategically wise (which various of us do regularly, Carl
probably most persuasively) and to evaluate the impact of those
costs when we use or reference one of their standards (which I
trust WGs and the IESG do).
In a move that is, overall, unusual given the "sell standards to
support the business" model, they have made part of the 3166-1
list (the alpha-2 codes --which are what we use-- and the
short-form country names) available "for internal use and
non-commercial purposes" online and without charge in HTML, XML,
and semicolon-delimited forms. This is clearly beneficial to
the community, and we should express our appreciation to them
for making the information readily available for free and in
relatively unrestricted. We have done that, although possibly
not in a public enough way.
For details on the current situation with 3166, wander through
the pages starting at
Now, one of the ways to read the original note is that, if
someone gets the "database" file from them and redistributes it
(it its original form or converted to some other database
format), then ISO is entitled to a royalty. If they have the
right to charge, at above distribution costs, for the database
form in the first place, that is probably a no-brainer. We
don't have to like it much, but that is, again, another issue.
And it is pretty harmless relative to where we stand today,
without the proposed policy.
Another way to read the note is that they are proposing to
charge for _use_ of the codes. In its extreme form (the form
that caused my "idea is nuts" comment earlier), that would imply
that I might owe, or some banker might owe, ISO something for
using the designation "CHF" for the currency in which prices for
ISO standards are denoted -- those codes for the names of
currencies consist of the 3166-1 alpha-2 country code plus a
one-letter code for the currency. Would they actually try to do
that? I have my doubts. Should they be told it would be a bad
idea? Yes, and I understand that W3C and the IAB have already
sent those messages... others might be in order. What would be
the impact if they tried? Well, I'll leave most speculation
about it to the amateur lawyers, but my guess is that if, e.g.,
they sent a bill to the US Treasury Department each time someone
put "USD" at the top of a currency conversion table in a
newspaper column, well, I'd guess the big question is whether
someone would bother to pronounce the words "national
sovereignty" before ignoring them.
As an even more implausible idea, contemplate being charged for
receiving this message, since the characters in it are encoded
consistent with an ISO standard. Sorry, that is implausible
enough that I don't think we need to worry about it.
I don't personally think it is worth the energy but, if we
decided we were seriously concerned about the issue, we could
tell ISO --and ISO/IEC JTC1-- that we won't permit references to
any more of their documents until they establish a policy-level
("Category A") liaison with us at the ISO and JTC1 levels, so
that we could have direct input into these sorts of ideas. My
hunch is that we'd be shooting ourselves in the foot --at best,
it would take them a long time to make that decision and we
really do benefit from using established standards, especially
ones that are outside our area of expertise. But, IMO, we would
get a lot further that way than asking for warranties.
--On Thursday, 25 September, 2003 14:50 -0400 Donald Eastlake
3rd <dee3(_at_)torque(_dot_)pothole(_dot_)com> wrote:
If ISO is never going to charge for use of such fundamental
standards as country codes, it should warrant that it never
will. In todays age of "Intellectual Property Rights"
madness, their failure to so warrant leaves all users
vulnerable to arbitrary future disruption and charges.
======== Donald E. Eastlake 3rd
dee3(_at_)torque(_dot_)pothole(_dot_)com 155 Beaver Street
Milford, MA 01757 USA
On Mon, 22 Sep 2003, John C Klensin wrote:
Date: Mon, 22 Sep 2003 13:22:02 -0400
From: John C Klensin <john-ietf(_at_)jck(_dot_)com>
Subject: Re: Proposal to charge for commercial use of ISO
Unless Ollie's intent is being misinterpreted --the statement
isn't completely clear to me-- this idea is nuts. The whole
foundation of the voluntary standards model, of which ISO
would like to consider itself the center, is that there are
never any licensing fees for using a standard (excessive
document-purchase fees, maybe, but not licensing fees for
use :-( ).
In the case of those code lists, especially 3166, I'd assume
that some other body would rapidly work out an agreement with
the UN source of the entries and that would be the end of
ISO's role. As the W3C note sort of points out, that would
be very disruptive and would serve no one's interests, least
of all that of ISO's status and reputation.
Just my opinion, of course.
--On Saturday, 20 September, 2003 16:41 +0100 Graham Klyne
> The following may be of concern to users of IETF standards,
> particularly with respect to use of RFC3066  (which
> itself cites ISO 3166 and ISO 639) and other standards that
> reference it.
> W3C has published the text of a letter  sent to ISO
> president Dr. Oliver Smoot expressing concern about a
> suggestion that ISO would charge software developers to use
> ISO codes in their products:
> "Companies who develop software products for sale to other
> parties are adding value to their products by including the
> data elements from an ISO Code in proper applications ...via
> the sale of the product the developing company is not only
> being compensated for its direct efforts to incorporate the
> ISO Codes in apropriate locations but it is also being
> compensated for trhe value the ISO Codes have added to its
> product. The ISO community should also be compensated for
> providing the intellectual property required to incorporate
> the value-added features into the product."
> -- excerpted from 
>  http://www.ncits.org/archive/2003/in031008/in031008.htm
>  http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc3066.txt
> Graham Klyne