If AISC did specific research to come up with their steel section properties
and took time to format it for use in design, they should have a right to
charge for the resulting design tables and protect it as proprietary
information. It costs AISC money to keep the database updated so they have a
right to recover their costs. This is similar to another thread which
indicated that summaries of state licensing information is available from
some organizations at a cost. The individual information may be available to
the public, but the gathering of the information into one summary took time
and is proprietary in that format.
The only real question is whether AISC should provide the section database
at no charge for the purpose of promoting steel design and construction. It
would be "nice" if AISC would do that, but that is a marketing vs cost
decision for AISC.
It is similar for code writing organizations - they have operating costs and
have a right to recover their costs. I would love to get all my codes for
free but it is unrealistic to expect that to happen unless we all make
annual contributions to such organizations to support their efforts. (I
guess that is why FEMA publications are provided at no charge - we have made
"contributions" thru our taxes.) But I would hope that such organizations
would try to keep the purchase costs as reasonable as possible, since we
have little choice as engineers in whether we purchase codes or not.