Based on diverse legal regulations, a vast number of Czech technical standards are binding for their intended users. This is particularly true in the construction industry as well as other fields where special attention is paid to the protection of public interest. It is therefore essential that since 1 January 2021, these technical standards are accessible to the general public free of charge. Sponsored access to these standards, as it is referred to, was introduced by an amendment to Act No. 22/1997 Coll., on technical requirements for products.
Although the state demands that these standards are binding, they were not made accessible to the public in an adequate way until the beginning of this year. For example, free access to the technical standards applicable in the construction industry was, until recently, only possible at the National Library of Technology in Prague. Certain other technical standards were only accessible free of charge at the fire brigades of individual Czech regions. In recent years, courts, including the Constitutional Court, have repeatedly dealt with the issue of inadequacy of this approach to making these standards accessible to the public.
The previous state of affairs was justified especially by the necessity to abide by the commitments resulting from the membership of the Czech Office for Standards, Metrology and Testing in international organisations dealing with standardisation: the rules of these organisations do not allow free access to technical standards especially for copyright-related reasons.
The lawmakers’ endeavour to change this situation by introducing the above-mentioned sponsored access, which is in line with the rules of the international standardisation organisations, is therefore one that deserves to be applauded.
Sponsored access to technical standards means that individual ministries or other central administration offices must ensure free access of the complete and unabridged wording of the binding Czech technical standards by prepaying them for the general public. These state authorities should ensure that all such Czech standards that are binding according to the legal regulations within the remit of these authorities are made public. Sponsored access may also be a way to grant access to other Czech technical standards that the relevant authorities consider important for the public.
The sponsored Czech technical standards are available to the public free of charge on the Czech Standardization Agency’s website upon user registration. Any individual may register, they only need to fill out a personal data form.
In late January 2021, the website of the Czech Standardization Agency only provided access to 20 technical standards. However, the number has been growing substantially and as of the date of publishing this article, approximately 350 technical standards are available at the website. For instance, technical standards for the construction industry, sponsored by the Ministry for Regional Development, make up a substantial share of those currently available. The number of technical standards made accessible to the public is expected to keep growing steadily in the upcoming months.
Introducing sponsored access has so far proven a very suitable way of granting access to technical standards to the general public. If the benefits of this approach are to be maintained in the future, however, it is crucial that the database of the accessible technical standards available on the Czech Standardization Agency’s website keeps growing, which depends on the state authorities’ active and responsible approach to providing free access to technical standards.
The article was published in Hospodářské noviny on 26 March 2021. (edited)