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AISC - Consideration of Listservice Comments

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I responded to a few people with suggestions as to how AISC might respond to
the professional community.  Original, they were responses to Bill Polhemus,
Lynn Howard or even Charlie Carter on the Database copyright issues.

There are underlying issues of importance to professional engineers about
the actions taken by AISC to request the removal of the Shapes Database from
the Structuralist.Net Spreadsheet forum. I felt this response was necessary
as I was discouraged by Charlie Carter's comments (who is employed by the
AISC in Chicago) in which he stated:

"Unfortunately, Dennis then "went public" on an issue that had already been
resolved privately and without disagreement. A fair amount of the back and
forth since seems to be very angry or insulting and without any
understanding of the real story. My feeble attempt at a partially humorous
and partially serious reply to a few of the more accusatory (and unfounded,
I think) charges followed. And I guess it only succeeded in pushing us even
further off course. I think it's time to bring this whole thing to an end.
Heck, we're all acting like we have degrees in intellectual property law!

I hope you all look upon AISC as helping you in the course of your work,
including through my personal participation in this list server. For my
part, I'm going to keep a smile on my face and delete away as any more
messages post. Well, unless someone says something that's really good

To Charlie, I respond;
The issues which you seem to take so lightly have deeper implications that
are of great importance to the professional community. While each of those
who responded admit they are not experts in Intellectual Property Law, they
raise questions and concerns which deserve appropriate justification rather
than responses that attempt to treat the professional community as children
who are directed by an authority figure to accept parental rules by nature
of the authority and not by appropriate reason. This has never been an
acceptable approach to take with professionals, without whom, steel
structures would not be designed.

1. Protection of Intellectual Property rights.

While we admit to be less than experts in the field of Intellectual
Property, engineers have a vested interest in the protection of Intellectual
Property and should not consider the disposition of these matters lightly.
We are expected to as fair with AISC as we expect others to be with our
work, however, we deserve a response that is factual. I was swayed by Jim
Todd's comments and agreed to remove the database although this was decided
by consideration of the greater issue that our profession protects more so
than intimidation of possible legal action.

It was never my intention to deal with this issue privately or discreetly -
an action that is common in professional organizations as it is in big
business which is required "damage control" to avoid questions to which
there are no direct or simple answers. The fact is that Jim Todd was asked
to provide an e-mail response to our discussion that would clearly explain
AISC's position which I openly intended to publish for those who deserved to
know why the database was no longer available.

Important issues can not be "swept under the carpet" so as to avoid public
consternation. They need to be explained and, if necessary, sufficient space
provided to air all opinions. However, what is incomprehensible is the idea
that all negative opinions should be "deleted away" by the one individual
who is, by chance, the link between the professional List members (about
12,000 of them) and the policy makers of AISC.

At the very least - Charlie Carter should be responsible enough to present
each of the outspoken opinions to the policy makers of AISC. The responses
represent  intelligent and valid questions, virtually all of whom questioned
the ethical decision of material organizations representing manufacturers of
products from taxing those of us charged with designing these materials. It
is virtually a unanimous belief that the tools for the design of structural
materials should be made available to professional engineers freely so as to
promote the industry.

There are a number of other, underlying but equally important issues which
have surfaced but which Charlie's comments would otherwise attempt to
"quietly" defuse. Unfortunately, attempting to resolve an important issue
secretly leads to much greater consternation within the profession once the
removal of the "offending database" is discovered. In any case, the demand
for explanation of its removal would escape the need for rhetoric by AISC
and leave it solely my responsibility. I suggest that the outcome would be
no less offensive to AISC as the principle of the issue at hand remains

2. Intellectual Property

The database (all three that I uploaded) contained numbers - nothing more. I
have no records as to where these originated. I found the two AISC files on
the Internet. The title referenced AISC which I assumed was as generic in
terms as the reference to facial tissue as "Kleenex".

However, at the root of the argument was the issue of Intellectual Property
rights. This is a very important issue among Engineers and Architects as we
have fought to protect our work from unauthorized reproduction. When in
doubt, it benefits the engineering community to assume the information is
protected if only to "protect" our personal arguments.

Mark Gilligan wrote an excellent opinion on the "Removal of the AISC
Database" (1/6/01) which clearly explored the questions and issues of
copyright, however, he caved in at the end (and probably rightly so in
defense of the principle I indicated above) by saying that "The reality is
that it is cheaper to pay the $60.00 to AISC to get the information in
electronic form than to fight the battle." While $60.00 may not seem like
much, many of us place a much greater value on principles.

3) Copy protected or copied?

Were the files copied from the AISC software? Your guess is as good as mine
since I downloaded the files after doing a search on the Internet. The
provider of the files did not say and there is nothing in the spreadsheets
to indicate their source. The file contains only numbers - none of which are
of any value to engineers in their basic form. AISC would have a difficult
time proving that the values were copied from the Shape Database CD-Rom. Jim
Todd, identifying the values as protected information wrote; " The fillet
radius information used in determining the properties and dimensions of a
given cross-section is obtained by AISC confidentially from each producer.
Therefore, the information contained within the AISC Shapes Database is AISC
intellectual property and copyrightable." While this may be true, is it
reasonable or ethical of AISC to protect the values for financial gain when
they are a non-profit organization responsible to represent the engineering
community and promote the use and design of steel buildings?

Charlie Carter wrote; "I suspect you did not know that the files you posted
were generated by a routine that is included with our database software to
create the AISC1 and AISC2 files." I did not know, and simply assumed that
the values were copied or calculated by whomever compiled the worksheets.
Can the data which is contained in the AISC manual and which represents the
physical properties of a shape considered an industry standard be copyright
protected? Only a lawyer will be able to answer this and until the time
comes to answer this questions, it is in our best interest (professionals in
private practice) to protect the ideology of Intellectual property rights -
if only from respect of something so important to our practice.

4) Support of Practicing professionals

The basic concern by the professional community participating in this list
discussion is one of consternation that the American Institute of Steel
Construction has placed the protection of profits over the representation of
design professionals. The argument is not as broad as to suggest that the
AISC should give away all information and most agree that the research and
development of design codes should be protected as to amortize the cost of
research and development. However, the protection of design standards which
represent the available materials and are calculated using standard methods
of mathematics is unreasonable.

There is, by comparison, no protection of industry standards within the wood
industry. In fact, the American Institute of Timber Construction will
shortly announce their new website that contains virtually all of their
information and standards free to all design professionals. This is good

The Light Gauge Steel industry has been attempting to establish standards
for years. They are very close and (I believe this is the organization from
member so correct me if I am wrong) the Center for Cold-Form Steel
Structures has begun to publish the section properties of cold-form
sections. HUD has also published the prescriptive standards to promote the
design and construction of light gauge steel structures. Very possibly, the
AISC should take a lesson from these other industry leaders who are not
trying to profit at the expense of the design professional who, for many
years, revered by the material manufacturers and standards organizations as
the most important link between product and client.

5) Opportunity or greed

In my opinion, the Internet has been identified as an untapped resource for
the sale of information. The inventors of the Internet intended it to be an
unstructured international community for the free exchange of ideas and
information. AISC appears to have embraced the ideology of using the
Internet to sell information far more than to use it to provide information
freely and in a manner to help those they represent be more accurate and
productive. Creating an Internet based professional reference Library would
not endanger the necessary income from sales of documents that most
industries historically rely upon. However, to sell information that was
historically valued only to compensate for paper publishing and mailing is,
in my opinion, taking advantage of the professional industry.

An example of this is the documents that the American Plywood Association
historically sold to engineers. At $2.00 a document, the price was
reimbursement of publication and distribution costs. AISC has made many of
these documents available free to the public via PDF files and downloads. In
return they gain the support of design professionals, not to mention respect
of the professional community.

Personally, I have considered the AISC website to nothing more than a price
list - with little if any information of value to engineers in need of
immediate resources. While other organizations are re-thinking the
importance of making information accessible to the design community, the
AISC appears to be focusing on how best to market what they have developed.
There is obviously little respect for the design community or AISC might
consider engineers their most important industry resource. Of course, this
is strictly my own opinion and possibly one reason I design predominately in

5) Responsibility,

Charlie Carters comments that he could " delete away as any more messages
post" (which he meant to include those which were insulting and angry) was,
in my opinion, unfortunate for an employee of AISC. Although we assume he is
an individual who is a member of the list and "happens" to be an employee of
the AISC, Charlie has volunteered to become involved in this issue and as
such is considered by others on the list as a representative of the AISC. In
this respect, Charlie's comment can be interpreted as an attitude embraced
by AISC to be autonomous and unconcerned about the underlying concerns of
the professional engineers on the Listservice.

I believe that what most engineers believe is that the AISC is an
organization which relies upon the engineering community to survive. While
it is unlikely that any action of the AISC would bring down the design of
steel buildings, the attitude does create friction in the profession.

Charlie has been an important participant in the SEAINT list - a long time
contributor and I believe that given the opportunity to rethink the comment,
he might realize the importance of the professional community that AISC
"supposedly" represents.

In the same position, I would propose that the posts be printed (rather than
deleted) and presented to the policy makers within AISC so that they can
address the consternation of the structure engineering community. You must
remember that there was no unified voice before the creation of this
Listservice and engineers spoke to AISC through their professional
organizations or individually. However, the outspoken members of this list
are an accurate barometer of the opinions of the entire professional
community. The active voices on the list are virtually unanimous in their
conviction that the physical properties of commercial steel which conforms
to this industry standard should be placed in the public domain. Nothing is
much clearer than this. It is further the opinion of the majority of
respondents that regardless of AISC's attempt to protect the income from the
sale of the database that it is accomplished at the expense of the
practicing professional community which is believed to be wrong. While few
would argue the validity of selling a code or design manual, the specific
issue is the unnecessary protection of values which do not protect
proprietary materials from unfair competition.

I suggest that the threads be compiled and given appropriate consideration
by AISC for the professional community who promotes the design of structural
steel buildings.

Dennis S. Wish, PE
The Structuralist Administrator for:
AEC-Residential Listservice
(208) 361-5447 E-Fax
ICQ #95561393