01 August 2015

IP Restrictions Run Amok

The state of Georgia has characterized the act of posting its laws online as "terrorism", clearly this is absurd:
Government officials have threatened "rogue archivist" Carl Malamud with legal action many times for his efforts to make public government documents widely available for free, but the state of Georgia has set a new standard for fighting this ridiculous battle: It's suing Malamud for infringing its copyright of state laws by -- horrors -- publishing them online.

The state's lawsuit, filed last week in Atlanta federal court, accuses Malamud of piracy -- and worse, of "a form of 'terrorism.'" His offense: Through his website, public.resource.org, he provides members of the public access to a searchable and downloadable scan of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated -- that is, the entire body of state law. The state wants a court order forcing Malamud to stop.

Georgia and Malamud have been waging this battle for a couple of years, or ever since Malamud sent thumb drives bearing the scans to the speaker of the state House of Representatives in 2013. A cease-and-desist order, which Malamud rebuffed, came virtually by return mail.

This isn't the first such battle Malamud has waged. For roughly two decades he's been working to make public laws, codes and court documents, well, public. At almost every turn he's been fought by government agencies that prefer to extract a fee from taxpayers for access, even though, as Malamud points out, the public pays for the work in the first place, via taxes.


The state's own lawsuit acknowledges that the annotations are "valuable analysis and guidance regarding ... state law." And the core of its case isn't that the annotations shouldn't be broadly accessible, only that the state doesn't want to pay the cost itself. LexisNexis shoulders the cost and in return gets the right to charge users, earning a profit.

If LexisNexis can't recoup those costs because Malamud is providing a free alternative, the lawsuit asserts, the state "will be required to either stop publishing the annotations altogether or pay ... using tax dollars."

Well, yes. Isn't that what taxes are for?
This is not something that the the state of Georgia should be playing anyone for this.

The state government has to have a copy of the laws and official interpretations in electronic form with annotations as a part of conducting business.

They don't need to have LexisNexis extracting tolls from the citizenry to make this public.

The costs here are negligible to non-existent, and the assertion of copyright is absurd.


Stephen Montsaroff said...

There is actual case law saying you cannot copyright laws.

I don't know what theory Georgia is using here.

Matthew Saroff said...

There is no theory beyond the pernicious myths that copyright and patent are property laws, and so they are property.

The constitution is quite clear: Copyright and patent are about serving the public interest.

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