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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Some Restrictions Apply

Yesterday, HL7 implemented a policy that I've been working towards as a member of the HL7 Board for quite some time.  Under that policy, anyone can implement HL7 standards in their products without paying a license fee to HL7.

Yes, you can download the standards from the HL7 web site today without charge.  They do ask you to do a couple of things (hence, the title of this post):

  1. Register on their website.
  2. Agree abide by the license terms and policy.
  3. Update your agreement status annually.
Is that so hard?  What this means for developers is that you can use the HL7 standards free of charge to develop software products.  It doesn't mean that you can incorporate parts of the standard into your documentation, or give parts of it to your customers, or otherwise distribute it.

Organizational members still retain some of those benefits that non-members aren't freely given.  They are able to share copies of the standard internally to their organization and to share parts of it (not whole chapters or domains) with their customers, or use parts of it to create implementation guides or product documentation.  

Some will complain that it's not fair that members can still do things with the standards than non-members cannot.  I have to say that if it has value, then maybe you should be willing to pay something for it.

Over time, I think the "paper work" to download the standard (which takes all of about 15 seconds to fill out) will get even less intimidating.  For now, we probably need to give the lawyers their due.  

Personally, I think that the new policy is a great move in the right direction.  What do you think?  Have you downloaded the standards yet?



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  3. Hi Keith,

    Since you asked "what do you think"... I can't resist :-)

    These are exciting times to be sure. But...

    1) 15 seconds may be overstating the case. Registration took me three tries and over five minutes. My first attempt appeared to succeed but didn't result in a success e-mail. On my second attempt, I discovered that entering an incorrect zipcode is an *unrecoverable* failure that is only announced after you finish entering all your data, then move on to choose a password.

    2) And after you register, you still need to answer marketing-style survey questions about what services HL7 could provide that would make you become a member... each time you actually want to download a file.

    3) Finally, I'm hoping you can help me answer a simple question: how do I download the C-CDA 1.1 spec as a non-member?

    Somehow I found the following link:

    ... but I don't know if it's the right one, and in any case it says "You must be a paid member of to access this resource."


    So I think this is a *great* first step, but there's a long way to go.

  4. A first step, but the license remains incompatible with any open source license that meets the OSI criteria. See The HL7 license can't apply to any open source software. So, there's a way to go.

  5. @fairhavenhorn It's certainly the case that HL7's license doesn't meet OSI criteria.

    *But* that doesn't mean it can't be used to build open-source software that implements HL7 standards. On my reading (and I'm no authority here, so please let me know if you disagree), today an HL7 non-member "can" (per the license -- still I haven't figured out how to navigate

    0. Register with HL7 (providing name, phone, address, etc.)
    1. Download HL7 specifications without cost (after answering some marketing questions and re-providing name, phone, address)
    2. Use those specifications to implement software
    3. License that software under an OSI compatible license.

    (You can *not*, however, include pieces of HL7's specs in your software's documentation. In fact, not even organizational HL7 members are allowed to do that, on my reading.)