The “Secret” National Electrical Code

by Colin Berkshire

I have written a few articles about the 2017 National Electrical Code (“NEC”). It is formally known as “NFPA 70”.

The NEC is about 1,000 pages long and is enacted into law by state governments. Each state individually “adopts” the code and so the effective date will vary from about this July to in some states a few years from now.

Now, as Americans we think that laws should be publicly available. Being obligated to comply with laws which are secret seems somehow undemocratic.

We are all obligated to comply with the National Electrical Code, so shouldn’t the code be a publicly available document? Get ready for a surprise.

You must purchase laws to know what they are.

If you want to have a usable copy of the NFPA 70 National Electrical Code you must license a copy of this copyrighted legislation. The cost will range from $100 to $200, depending upon whether you want to see the pictures or not. And because it is copyrighted, and is licensed to one individual, you will need to purchase multiple copies of the regulation.

Now, your common sense that laws cannot be secret and laws cannot be legally binding if you must purchase a license to even see them. And, you would be correct.

So the NFPA provides free access on their website to the regulations. (Don’t get too excited too quickly.)
The web based free regulations are buried behind a bewildering array of obscurely labeled links.
Once you find the real link you must provide an email address which must be verified, first.
You must agree to a long license agreement that provides that you will not store any of the regulations on your computer or otherwise. You may only view them online while logged in.

So far does this seem reasonable? (Don’t get too excited too quickly.)

Once you finally get to the free copy of the regulations you will find that they have intentionally blurred them to the point that if you can read them at all. At the risk of being sued by the NFPA here is a sample…this is the actual quality of the free text:

All highlighting has been converted to gray color, and all pictures have been removed. There is also no search feature. And, if the image is too wide for your screen you cannot scroll from side to side to see it all…even side-to-side scrolling has been disabled.

This is simply outrageous!

Here is the link to view NFPA 70 for free:

You will need to agree to these terms:

“nonexclusive and nontransferable license to view online the content of the Online Document. The Online Document is designed to be viewed online only – there are no “print,” “save,” or “cut and paste” options – and the license granted to you by this agreement does not include the right to download, reproduce, store in a retrieval system, modify, make available on a network, use to create derivative works, or transmit the content of the Online Document in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise.”

“fair use does not include the disabling, circumventing, or otherwise evading the read-only or other technological measures that limit copying of the content of the Online Document.”

Keep in mind that this is adopted into law. You are just trying to read the law.