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September/October 2010

Protecting ASTM’s Intellectual Property

Copyright, Piracy and ASTM International Standards

James A. Thomas, President, ASTM InternationalASTM International standards have never been easier to obtain, more affordable or more efficiently delivered than they are today. Thanks to the Internet, an ASTM standard can be on a desktop anywhere in the world with the click of a mouse.

But ASTM standards — in print, on a CD or on a computer — are still a true representation of the ASTM International brand. They are still original creations of ASTM International technical experts, and last, but certainly not least, they are still the main source of revenue for this organization. They are, therefore, still copyrighted.

In countries where copyright laws are respected, the ASTM International standard is largely, if not perfectly, protected from illegal reproduction.1 The World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Agreement2 and the intellectual property provisions of free trade agreements are also technically in play to prevent copyright abuses. But in countries where pirated goods are traded freely, agreements and laws have little effect.

As the use of the Internet increases, so does copyright infringement, and today it occurs on a grand, international scale. With no political will or effective enforcement to halt it, the illegal reproduction and sale of digitized intellectual property, aptly termed piracy, has risen to new heights. Freewheeling operators in countries such as China and Iran are buying ASTM standards through the Internet, reproducing them and selling them without authorization or permission. It’s a problem. A few years ago, we could identify five or six websites a year that sold ASTM standards illegally. Now we can identify five or six a week.

The piracy of intellectual property is an international, legal and diplomatic problem that the U.S. government and other governments admit is frustrating and difficult to solve without the cooperation of countries whose innovative capacities are limited or who are severely affected by a global recession. Is there anything we can do? Among other measures, ASTM has retained local counsel in foreign jurisdictions to pursue additional actions against infringers where appropriate.

Some well-known companies — and some standards organizations — have resorted to the use of digital rights management technology, software that is designed to prevent unauthorized duplication of copyrighted works. In its current state of development, DRM is effective but not foolproof, and it inhibits some uses of digital content. To date, ASTM International has resisted employing DRM out of concern for the inconveniences it would place on legitimate purchasers of ASTM standards.

But the piracy of ASTM International property is a serious issue, a practice by which, ultimately, no one profits. Sellers of pirated intellectual property are endangering future trade relations with countries who buy their exports. Buyers of pirated material may or may not get the entire original ASTM standard, which could cause product or testing problems and contracts to fail. Most importantly, the practice of piracy is illegal. In the meantime, while we explore possible solutions, we ask that ASTM International members and friends join our efforts by helping us to identify offending Web sites. Please report all such findings to John Pace, ASTM vice president of publications and marketing. Thank you.

James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International

1. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, Pub. L., No. 105-304, 112 Stat. 2860, was signed into law by President Clinton on Oct. 28, 1998. The legislation implements two 1996 World Intellectual Property Organization treaties: the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.
2. World Trade Organization, Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement.

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