24 August 2010

What would you pay to use the GRI standard?

Recently Stewart Mckie in a blog posting (http://holistic.tripos.biz/about/gri-and-software-certification/) pointed out that the GRI appears to have changed the wording of its copyright notice with regard to use of the GRI content in software solutions. It is now "Illegal" to use GRI text, indicators or content in software systems without paying a license to the GRI.

The GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) is one of the more widely known and used CSR/Sustainability reporting standards. It was developed using the contributions of members and government grants.

Now the GRI is asserting that if you use software to create a GRI compliant report (i.e. actually use the GRI Indicator label and text) and the software provider did not have the GRI's permission (and pay them a fee), a crime will have been committed. While we've heard a fixed price for the license, I cannot imagine that the GRI would charge a small firm the same as they would charge a very large software provider. It certainly would be a great deal for SAP or Oracle, but not for smaller market participants. And does a flat annual license make sense when one provider's software might facilitate the creation of 100 reports, while another provider's software might facilitate the creation of 1000.

This means that preparers of a GRI compliant report will pay for use of the (free) standard through the license fee that the software provide must remit to GRI. This includes companies that may have contributed to the development of the standard or membership in the GRI as Organizational Stakeholders (OS).

Could the GRI go to the producer of a report with a GRI Index, and ask what software was used to feed the content of that report? What if a company chooses not to disclose their service provider? Is the reporting company then a party to the illegal use of the GRI standard?

Will companies simply stop providing GRI Indexes, and instead simply state "Prepared in the spirit of the GRI G3 standard". The report provider could then simply provide an index. You know, the good old fashion kind with a list of word and concepts, pointing to the page where the information can be found.

Regardless, what does the need to monetise the standard point to, and what might be the unintended consequences of such a move?

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