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Unicode Consortium
Public Positions

This page documents positions of the Unicode Consortium on external issues of particular public importance to the computing industry. The Consortium will pursue positive resolution of these issues, and urges other organizations to carefully examine these issues and to take appropriate actions.

1. Fees for the commercial use of ISO codes

With reference to the proposal by ISO CPSG to charge fees for the commercial use of ISO codes: ISO infrastructure standards such as ISO 3166 (country codes), ISO 4217 (currency codes), and ISO 639 (language codes) must be royalty-free. The negative consequences of charging royalties would be severe, including strong incentives for companies and other organizations to:

  1. avoid future contributions to ISO standards development
  2. avoid using or referencing ISO standards
  3. develop and use alternative, royalty-free, standards

Moreover, many of these ISO standards are themselves based on contributions from other sources or duplicate pre-existing data, and charging royalties for the use of this data may expose ISO itself to debates over intellectual property rights and financial liability. Even the discussion of this issue casts a cloud of uncertainty over future use of ISO standards in the IT environment.

August 26, 2003

Related links:

2. Stability of ISO 3166 and other infrastructure standards

The decision by the maintenance agency for ISO 3166 to re-assign "cs" (formerly Czechoslovakia) to Serbia and Montenegro can cause severe problems. Country codes are a fundamental component of modern computing infrastructure: major operating systems, postal services, business applications, identification and security systems, to name a few. Their stability must be guaranteed. Data that is identified by these codes has a shelf life of decades, not five years.

The Unicode Consortium urges the maintenance agency to change its policy to never re-use codes.

August 26, 2003, updated April 21, 2005

Related links:

3. Availability and Stability of ISO 4217 Currency Codes and other Codes

The Consortium is gratified to see that the ISO currency codes are now publicly available as promised in ISO reaffirms free-of-charge use of its country, currency and language codes:

"ISO is to continue with its established practice of allowing free-of-charge use of its country, currency and language codes from, respectively, the ISO 3166, ISO 4217 and ISO 639 standards, in commercial and other applications.

... where the currency and language codes are, respectively, publicly available...."

Updated link current as of 2017:

However, the public ISO currency list needs to follow the same practices as ISO 3166 and ISO 639 have recently put into place to guarantee stability and availability. Stability is fundamental to a use of codes like these, since data in existing databases referring to currencies must maintain the same semantics, even if a code goes out of modern use.

April 15, 2005, updated December 18, 2017