Georgia suing Carl Malamud, calls publishing state laws "terrorism"

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Go Carl! Activate mutant superpower of doing the right thing.


Rather than only a public policy “fair use” defense, I’d like to see them them argue that laws are describe (or proscribe) a method or means of operation. And since any change in the written law would change exactly what behavior is permitted, they fall short of the idea/expression divide and therefore aren’t copyrightable.


…but the way they talk about their case is certainly the stupidest and most grossly offensive.

As a lifelong resident of Georgia, I can affirm that there are many things (and people) here qualifying as stupid and grossly offensive.


Some background information that makes the Tech Dirt article seem off-base:
Annotations to statutes, contrary to what they sound like, are lists of cases that cite those statutes. They may sound like they ought to be statutes with official commentary or statutory history appended, but they aren’t. Annotated Statutes are a great way to find applicable case law, but the annotations are entirely separate from the statutes. The annotations have to be updated constantly to be of much use, so they are more of a service than a one-time publication. They are mostly done by the commercial law database providers–usually West. The Georgia Code Annotated I can find is a West publication.


Georgia should be made a federal district and put under the authority of Congress for a stunt like this. Let’s see how they like that…

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I don’t see the problem.


I see the possible copyright of the annotations (they are, I guess, a separate work from the laws themselves) but I don’t agree with charging the taxpayers for them - the state has a duty to explain its laws clearly to its citizens, doesn’t it? So the taxpayers should either get clear laws, or annotations, or both, that they have paid for.


My company works with building codes all the time. Information may want to be free, but the development and revision of codes takes a lot of knowledgeable people a lot of time and effort, and costs a fair amount of money to accomplish. Handbooks on interpretation or annotations likewise. When you buy an official version, you also normally buy the interim updates, corrections, revisions, bulletins, etc…as in, they send them to you.

Not everyone needs or wants a copy of the building code (when’s the last time you needed to use one? if you did you could probably find a reference copy in a library), and the people who do normally are prepared to pay for one. I don’t even know if it mitigates the costs, but why should the taxpayers in general pay (more than they no doubt already do) to give the people who make a living using these documents free copies?

I don’t know about copyright, but there is a compelling reason to make sure that all copies that are available are complete “official versions” that haven’t been altered in any way.


This is an important distinction. “Annotated statutes” are statutes (laws) plus annotations (commentary on said laws). The annotations are original copyrightable content. Fear-mongering and pandering articles (and headlines) like this do a disservice to the underlying issues.

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Cross linking citations sounds more like “sweat of the brow” than creativity to me…see 49 US 340.


I disagree. ANYTHING the government creates belongs to the PEOPLE. Annotations that were created by the government should have no copyright! They should be public domain automatically. No one is saying they need to make the laws freely available for the asking in paper form, but if someone takes a copy and does the work to convert it to another format … GREAT!


Most annotated codes are created by private companies, such as West. I agree that if they were prepared by the state, they should be considered within the public domain and free of copyright.

There’s some weirdness to this case though, since the privately-prepared annotations to the codes get merged into the official copy. Georgia is the only state that does this, according to Wikipedia.


Why is it in America that when someone performs a benign public service the government didn’t like, he’s a terrorist, but when a Christian white male shoots up a movie theater he’s merely troubled?


I’m also an engineer in the construction and power industry, and support Public Resource’s argument that codes should be freely available. They are of course not free to produce (I participate on some code and standards making panels), but I think that cost should be born by the government (and tax payers at large), rather than be a for-profit enterprise. Ultimately taxpayer safety is the reason the codes exist.

Most states simply adopt the ICC and NFPA codes verbatim or with minor amendments, and those laws directly impact peoples lives - homeowners can modify their home, but are legally bound to the codes - thus they should have unfettered access to them.

I know there are a lot of subtleties to developing and paying for codes and standards, but I think that having the solution be that our nation’s laws are copyrighted works that you have to purchase from private companies in order to comply with is not responsible.


The state of Georgia should hire Carl Malamud to collaborate and/or work on producing marked-up versions of the statues.

IIRC this is actually settled law. The precedent that I recall had to do with building codes, which incorporated by reference some industry standards that the industry association sold (as with Georgia) at a profit. Since it was necessary to have a copy of the standards to comply with the legally-required codes, it was a pretty sweet deal.

In a very similar case, the association sued for copyright infringement when someone or other made copies of the standard to attach to the code. The defense was that the code was a law, and that in a democracy the government is not allowed to write laws which are binding on the public but that the publican can’t know etc.

Seems on point to this one, but IANAL so stay tuned.


Good luck with that. Publicans hear all the scuttlebutt.


/me is a retired engineer. I served for eight years as a committee chair for JEDEC, producing (among other things) the standard specifications for the DRAM in every general-purpose computer on Earth. Yes, standards are expensive; the DRAM standard, for instance, is the work of hundreds of engineers working for several years. For each generation of memory. The four weeks a year when we pile into a meeting room (more like hotel ballroom with tables) is the least of it.

And yet. Those DRAM standards are available for download, free. Go ahead and prove it to yourself: