The conflict is obvious: Some organizations want everybody to adopt standards, because this makes those organizations more effective. Nonetheless, after collaborating to define and publish standards, such organizations agree to prohibit anybody from getting a copy without paying money for it.
Sure, if I can get you to comply with my standard and also to pay me money to discover what my standard is, why not? But the world isn’t so docile. If I charge you money to see my standard, you are likely to decline the offer and thus ignore and violate the standard.
17 years ago experts were complaining about this conflictual practice of computing-standard creators. And they were only echoing an argument that has been made in the courts since the 19th century: It is in the public interest for the law to be known by all, so that it can be obeyed by all; therefore, the authors of texts that are incorporated into laws may not prohibit, or charge money for, the duplication of those texts. See Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc., for a 2002 statement of that argument.
Today the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) continues to finesse this issue by claiming, with no substantiation, that it can (1) limit the distribution of its standards by charging money for copies and enforcing copyrights while (2) “making sure standards are implemented as widely as possible”.
Nonsense. ISO’s conduct fits a different model: It’s a consortium (or perhaps cartel) of members who derive competitive advantage from their compliance with a standard, and are therefore willing to pay the price of access to (and, indeed, participation in the creation of) that standard. You don’t directly comply with the standard; instead, you buy standard-compliant products from consortium members and thereby enjoy the benefits of interoperability among those members’ products. You don’t need or want to know what the standard is or how it works.
Nonetheless, groups without any obvious competitive purposes (such as linguists who promote uniform language-documentation practices) continue to seek ISO sponsorship of their standards. Doesn’t this status, which prohibits the open publication of the standards, do them more harm than good?