pay-to-read standards

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Pay-to-read standards are standards produced by standards bodies who charge money to read the standards documents, even on their website.


  • ISO, the International Organization for Standardization. They charge 158 CHF (around $175 USD as of 2014-07) to download a PDF copy of each of their standards.
  • BSI, the organisation responsible for British Standards. The cost of BSI PDF downloads varies but can be as much as £100 ($170 USD as of 2014-07)
  • to be expanded

The alternative

The alternative to pay-to-read standards is free-to-read standards. IETF RFCs and standards from W3C and OASIS are free-to-read, as are standards published by WHAT WG and

Even better than just free-to-read is free-to-reuse, releasing the result under a free license like Creative Commons Attribution or Attribution-ShareAlike, or even better releasing the standard into the public domain (with CC0 fallback). This means other people can share, translate, copy and reuse the standard without legal worry.

The point of a legitimate standards document is so that people can implement the standard: any barrier to them doing so (whether legal, financial or otherwise) may prompt particularly cynical people to question whether the standards body is working for the greater good of society.

The decision to make the Web an open system was necessary for it to be universal. You can't propose that something be a universal space and at the same time keep control of it. —Tim Berners-Lee