Our Fight to Keep the Law Free

UpCodes online access to building codes
We serve over 200,000 users every month from all over the US
1
Introduction
2
Background
3
What UpCodes has done to help
4
How you can help
5
The future
FAQ
Frequently asked questions



There are organizations trying to copyright the law.

These are laws that every American has to follow or face civil and criminal penalties. It's not just architects, engineers, and builders, but even homeowners and small business owners.

One such organization trying to copyright the law is the International Code Council (ICC). They brought a lawsuit against UpCodes, trying to force us to take down open access to the law.

UpCodes is using AI to make compliance easier and cheaper. This will result in safer and more affordable housing. Open access to the law is an important part of reaching that goal.

UpCodes will defend Americans' constitutional right to read their own laws and our ability to innovate in the space.




Background

The ICC convenes committees of volunteers made up of government officials and industry professionals to write base codes. ICC then lobbies state and local governments to enact these codes into law.

Once enacted into law, ICC publishes these codes in books and makes tens of millions of dollars in revenue each year for access[?]. This process allows them to profit by monopolizing access to the law.




What UpCodes has done to help

UpCodes provides free, unfettered access to the laws. We’re introducing new tools to the industry on top of the free access.

We look to equip professionals who design our cities as well as homeowners to better navigate these important laws.

In the case of UpCodes AI, we are looking to catch code errors upstream by scanning 3D digital models of buildings. These are the tools needed to keep up with the growing complexity of codes and to keep our apartments and homes affordable and safe.




How you can help

If you would like to help, please help spread the word about UpCodes with your colleagues and friends — both our service and our fight to keep the law free. It’s important Americans know that their right to read and speak the law is under attack.

Follow us on Twitter here and share on social media to spread the word. TechCrunch had a great summary here.




The future

Building codes are essential for keeping our buildings and cities safe. However, in order to create safer cities, we need new technology to empower professionals, business owners, and residents to follow these laws.

Check back for updates!



F.A.Q.

Didn't ICC already litigate this case?



Yes, ICC has litigated and lost this issue twice:
From the BOCA v. Code Technology case (1980)*:

The citizens are the authors of the law, and therefore its owners, regardless of who actually drafts the provisions, because the law derives its authority from the consent of the public, expressed through the democratic process.

From the SBCCI v. Veeck case (2002)*:

Specifically, may a code-writing organization prevent a website operator from posting the text of a model code where the code is identified simply as the building code of a city that enacted the model code as law? Our short answer is that as law, the model codes enter the public domain and are not subject to the copyright holder's exclusive prerogatives."

In addition, there is other case law showing that no one can own the law.

From ASTM et al. v Public.Resource.org (2018):

The plaintiffs here claim a copyright over binding legal texts, which would enable them to prevent anyone from gaining access to that law or copying it for the public... As a matter of common-sense, this cannot be right: access to the law cannot be conditioned on the consent of a private party.

From Code Revision Comm. v Public.Resource.org (2018):

The resulting work is intrinsically public domain material, belonging to the People, and, as such, must be free for publication by all. As a result, no valid copyright can subsist in these works.

*BOCA and SBCCI are two of three entities that came together to form ICC[?].

Who does this impact?



These codes affect the buildings we all live, work, and sleep in every day. Without tools to manage the increasing complexity of regulations, safety is compromised and the cost of homes and commercial buildings increases.

Every year in the US, billions of dollars are wasted on compliance. This ranges from design, government approvals, construction rework, to building occupation (including insurance rates and frequent compliance lawsuits).

The single greatest cause of rising housing prices is excessive regulations that increase the time and cost of building new homes.

We're trying to eliminate this waste. If construction codes aren't available to those who need them, this burden on all homeowners will keep getting worse. That's the danger of an organization trying to monopolize the law. We all pay the price.

How much does this impact the construction industry?



While other industries have increased productivity with new technologies and workflows, construction has seen a decrease in productivity over the last 50 years. According to McKinsey, a major factor is building codes. Year over year, codes become increasingly complex and difficult to manage.

Organizations like ICC have severely impacted our profession. This comes from over two decades of starved innovation.

Productivity within the construction sector is consistently poor ... Some of this is due to external factors such as cumbersome building codes and permitting processes.

While building UpCodes, we have come across many individuals and organizations who attempted to create tools and workflows to manage compliance. All of these were ultimately shut down by ICC or similar organizations. It’s impossible to say what tools we would have today if these initiatives were allowed to flourish.

Isn't ICC a non-profit?



Yes, ICC is a tax-exempt non-profit. However, their non-profit status does not mean they aren't making revenue or taking salaries. In fact, their self-published financials would likely surprise many people:

  • They have a revenue stream of approximately $78 million per year[?][?] with large profit margins[?].
  • The CEO, Dominic Sims, is paid $742,000 / year[?]. The median salary for the head of a non-profit is $104,000 / year [?].

It's unusual to see a non-profit using aggressive litigation tactics to suppress innovation. The monopolistic actions, the budget dedicated to offensive litigation, and high executive salaries are inappropriate for a non-profit.

Don't these organizations need to make money?



Organizations such as ICC provide a valuable service by convening volunteers and overseeing the code writing process. In turn, these codes provide value to society by keeping us all safe.

The majority of ICC’s revenue comes from program services, including consulting, certification, and training, which do not rely on profiting by limiting access to the law[?]. ICC makes a lot of money. Attempting to copyright the law is unnecessary.






Further reading




Read our full Motion for Summary Judgement here. (Note: we are required by the court to redact certain confidential parts)



Have a question you don't see? Want to share a story about your experience in this space? Drop a us a line here.