Are you violating copyright when you use standards? It's time to check!

Last updated:
29/3/2024

Standards are agreements about a product, process, service or test method. Did you know that standards are also protected by copyright? If you purchase a standard, you have the right to read that standard – meaning you may view, download and print it – but you don't have the right to share it with colleagues, and definitely not with suppliers or customers. What is and isn't allowed, and where does the grey zone begin? We're happy to shed some light on the matter.

Sharing is caring, right?

A practical example: imagine you work in a large organisation. You need to consult a specific standard and you submit a request to the purchasing manager. The purchasing manager handles the request and provides you with the watermarked standard in your name. A few days later, your colleague requests access to the same standard. In the interest of speed, the purchasing manager provides your colleague with the standard that was originally purchased for you. That might sound logical; after all, the standard was purchased with company resources. However, the standard was ordered specifically for you.

This situation might seem harmless enough, but if your organisation is subject to an audit, it could result in your certification being revoked. And the consequences of that can be far-reaching: from failing to meet requirements to having to cease collaboration with some of your customer base, not to mention the potential reputational damage.

Not seeing the forest for the trees

On the other hand, some organisations are extra careful when purchasing standards. However, decentralised standards management can increase costs and there's no overview of who has access to which standards within the organisation. Out of an abundance of caution, some organisations end up preferring to purchase one too many standards rather than too few.

Another example we encounter in practice: you are working with the most recent version of the standard, while another colleague is using an older version. Red flags already show in your exchanges; communication is strained and it's hard to reach agreement. Here too, the consequences can be serious; the product or service you're working on doesn't meet internal quality standards, meaning you can't sell it.

These are just two examples where NBN's standards platform offers a solution – by centralising purchasing, you give employees and colleagues access to the latest version of NBN standards via a single platform. What's more, we're happy to help you make sure your organisation operates in a copyright-compliant way.

The grey zone

It's worth remembering that not everything is copyright infringement. For example, you may use clauses from a standard in internal documents such as procedures or manuals. As long as you're using the information in the standard and translating it to your business context, there no issue in principle.

Is it important to your value chain that your customers or suppliers also work in accordance with your processes? In cases where very specific clauses in a standard need to be referred to, these may be forwarded in specifications or quality requirements. However, if your customers or suppliers need to have access to complete standards, or multiple clauses, then you should refer them to the NBN website. As a rule, it's best to refer someone to the NBN website unless they need a very specific clause. This way, they can also explore which of our formulas for accessing standards best suits their organisation.

Still have questions about copyright and purchasing standards? Get in touch and we'll be happy to help you figure out which solution works for you.

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