ISO codes: stability and royalties (was: Ambiguity)

Mark Davis mark.davis at
Sat Nov 15 05:39:09 CET 2003

There are a couple of general issues regarding the use of ISO codes, both in RFC
3066 and in other places. The Unicode consortium has taken positions on these
(see, and the US L2
committee is working through various channels to bring these problems to the
attention of the appropriate people in ISO. We feel confident that once they
realize the importance of these issues, that they will move forward to address
and resolve them.

For a concrete illustration of the stability problem with the current ISO codes,
suppose that a database uses ISO 3166 country codes to mark people's
birthplaces. Upon action by the ISO registration authority, all such data can be
rendered invalid. By the recent action of the 3166 registration authority, for
example, someone born in Czechoslovakia will now be on record in that database
as being born in Serbia and Montenegro. Because of the use of ISO 3166 in key
language codes such as RFC 3066, this also invalidates language codes.

As you can see by the links on that page, in response the Internet Architecture
Board has even taken the action to request ICANN *not* to register cs as a
high-level domain name.

On the related issue of ISO royalties, ISO has taken a very important step with
the issuance of a press release

That press release is not quite enough yet to settle the issue, because:

(a) The text used in the press release was not definitive ("is to continue",
"there is no proposal currently being considered", "has no plans for doing so").
Such language reserves the ability to change at any time.

(b) this was a press release, and has no legal or policy standing within ISO; it
could be reversed at any time. to completely settle the issue, it should at
least appear in the appropriate ISO policies and procedures, or in the text of
(revisions of) ISO 4217, ISO 3166, ISO 639, and ISO 15924.

Mark Davis

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