Using SAE standards content in open source projects

  • Thread starter Heinz-Juergen Oertel
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Heinz-Juergen Oertel


I'm facing the following.
We want to provide an Open Source extension for our CAN analyzer. It should be able to interpret J1939 CAN messages and show it in a readable format, with exactly the same describing text as used in J1939/71. Now the SAE Copyright text reads as following:
".... republishing SAE copyrighted material in another work... is strictly prohibited."

The question is, is using the information obtained by reading the standard to write a computer program that should be released in source code a kind of "republishing"?

Best regards
Heinz-Juergen Oertel
If I understand you right, you read information from the CAN bus.

- you don't link against copyrighted libraries
- you don't even use copyrighted software

What legal problem could arise from displaying this information?

I would say none.
No, you are supposed to use any standard to create new works. Copyright means only that you may not directly copy the text of the standard and publish it as your own work either for sale or for free, in any text format, printed or on the Internet. What you intend to do is "implement" the standard.

It is generally accepted to present brief phrases or quotations from a standard as part of your documentation as long as you provide full attribution to the standards document, and as long as the quotation is brief and in context to your implementation.

Dick Caro (formerly Convenor, IEC SC65C/WG6)
Richard H. Caro, CEO
CMC Associates
2 Beth Circle, Acton, MA 01720
Tel: +1.978.635.9449 Mobile: +.978.764.4728
Fax: +1.978.246.1270
E-mail: [email protected]

Michael Griffin

Copyright covers duplication of material. "Republishing" would be to reproduce
and re-distribute the copyrighted material in its original form. If you are just quoting what are intended to be standard phrases or brief descriptions, you would probably be OK. What SAE is trying to prevent is you reproducing the spec wholesale.

I am not familiar with SAE J1939. The question comes down to just how much you are reproducing, and what the intent of the original document is. Reproducing a standard message such as "missing or corrupt adress header" would likely be OK. Reproducing an entire paragraph explaining it would likely not.

I am not a lawyer, and certainly not a copyright lawyer. Also copyright law varies from country to country. I would suggest directing your question to a forum dealing with open-source software. People there deal with this sort of issue all the time. We just buy over-priced prioprietary rubbish.

Curt Wuollet

This is one of many such troubling issues with using non-free standards and protocols. And I've never had any luck asking various entities directly for permission or even to clarify if my
use would be considered infringing. Even Modbus, where the intent to open it up seems clear, suffers from legal language that could be easily read to prevent such use. And the lawyers seem to want it that way. I wish they would realize how chilling that can be to standardization and widespread use especially for the OSS community. OSL or someone should hire legal talent to resolve these issues, except that the legal wrangling involves more work than many OSS projects.


Curt Wuollet

Hi Dick
I agree, but if the society wanted to, they could put you under with a legal challenge. It really wouldn't matter who won. That's why it would help a lot if they spelled out predictable acceptable uses. This is a big headache for some very public spirited people that seek to make things better. And it's difficult for the establishment folks to grasp this. Did I really use that word?


Heinz-Jürgen Oertel

Thanks for all of you who has answered to my query.
with best regards / mit freundlichen Grüßen

Heinz-Jürgen Oertel