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Don't Share That Law! It's Copyrighted 481

Posted by timothy
from the there-would-be-these-rules-that-everyone-knows dept.
Nathan Halverson writes "California claims copyright to its laws, and warns people not to share them. And that's not sitting right with Internet gadfly, and open-access hero, Carl Malamud. He has spent the last couple months scanning tens of thousands of pages containing city, county and state laws — think building codes, banking laws, etc. Malamud wants California to sue him, which is almost a given if the state wants to continue claiming copyright. He thinks a federal court will rule in his favor: It is illegal to copyright the law since people are required to know it. Malamud helped force the SEC to put corporate filings online in 1994, and did the same with the patent office. He got the Smithsonian to loosen its claim of copyright, CSPAN to stop forbidding people from sharing its videos, and most recently Oregon to quit claiming copyright on state laws." Malamud's talk at Google ("All the Government's Information") is also well worth watching.
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Don't Share That Law! It's Copyrighted

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  • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman.gmail@com> on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:32PM (#24862771) Homepage Journal

    Is this a joke? Laws are not "Science" or "useful Arts" as defined in the Constitution. They are practical communications between the government and its people. Since the government is both serves its people and is funded by its people, it cannot hold a copyright. This has been recognized at the Federal level for... oh... ever. ( 105. Subject matter of copyright: United States Government works [cornell.edu])

    I'm all for state powers, but this is simply rediculous. Even if we assume a valid legal theory exists that allows states to hold copyrights over works created by public officers, laws themselves are still not considered works of art or science any more than a memo reminding my wife to get milk is considered copyrightable.

    Of course, being a lawyer and/or lawmaker is a skilled trade. So the argument could be made that the text is the result of those skills. I still don't think it can be copyrighted, but let's say a judge disagrees with me. Well then, what of fair use? The people must have access to laws in order to obey them. Thus laws must be communicated in the open to all citizens under the fair use doctrine.

    Under the 4 point balance test, the nature of the works (i.e. laws) is factual and thus not allowed copyright protection. (see: Time Inc. v. Bernard Geis Associates) The purpose of reproducing the laws is that it is information required by the public. The amount copied is irrelevant in this case, as the entirity of the law is required information for every citizen. Last but not least, the value of the law should only be in its improvement upon society, not a dollar value placed upon its reproduction. Coming back to the point the citizens PAID to have those laws created, it only follows that they should not be further charged to obtain copies of them.

    • by FredFredrickson (1177871) * on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:38PM (#24862847) Homepage Journal
      If he loses, it will be interesting to use "ignorance of the law" as a defense.

      "I'm sorry, your honor, I didn't have enough money to know what laws I broke.
      • by ZeroFactorial (1025676) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:16PM (#24863545)
        We should copyright the copyright laws with billion dollar royalties for usage.

        You could violate any copyrights you want, and when they try to cite the copyright laws, BAM!
      • by arth1 (260657) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:22PM (#24863651) Homepage Journal

        "I'm sorry, your honor, I didn't have enough money to know what laws I broke.

        Stop giving them ideas!

        I'm only half joking too. It wouldn't surprise me if a state sooner or later started demanding a special and mandatory tax for giving its citizens access to its laws, or demanded a fee from lawyers who shared information about laws with their clients.

        • by Jim Robinson Jr. (853390) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @04:41PM (#24864825)
          Hmmm... that is an interesting concept. For an attorney to practice law in any state, he/she must pay a "mandatory tax" in the form of a yearly state licensing fee. Only then can the law be shared. Nah... it'll never work!
        • by davidsyes (765062) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @04:47PM (#24864911) Homepage Journal

          Now, I hope he goes after county health regulations for FORCE the counties across the country to once and for all MAKE AVAILABLE not only the regulations/ordinances that say what must be done in order to obtain the permits to operate restaurants and businesses, but also to records of WHAT equipment and fixtures are approved.

          I knew a team of young, ambitious Asians (4-8 people) in the Central Valley who in 2000-2001 were trying to open an internet cafe. They hired a respected architect, followed all the know/anticipated rules, and STILL the county planner/permits office kept sending them back to correct things. They even added MORE space than required for ADA-protected patrons and were made to rip out work completed in order to please the county. It was rumored that the head had a friend also opening an internet cafe and he was helping out his friend have less competition. How? Well, if he kept sending them back to do rework, he could burn up their cash and force them to quit. But, these kids were resourceful, determined, and NEEDED to form a business to make money to pay for school and to live.

          It is QUITE FUCKING SPECIOUS for counties to deny access to records of APPROVED coffee machines, ice makers, display fridge units, toilet heights flexibility ranges, hand rails range of heights for wheel chair users, reach-in fridge units, and so on. Every time a county planning/permits office functionary rejects plans or revisions to be redrawn, it costs the entrepreneur money in attorney's fees, architect's fees, county inspector fees, time and money lost on start-up delays, and the appearance of entrepreneur unprofessionalism in the eyes of would-be patrons chafing for a place to open its doors. Money is even lost when a toilet 1/2 inch too high is tossed out for another one.

          It is as if these people pay gate-keeper of the beholden information as if to mask racism or any other -ism used to suppress or oppress anyone not liked, anyone who demands to be respected, anyone who challenges the county's decision on the plans or modifications not significantly differing from originally-approved plans. I realize, too, that many counties these days computerize the floor plans of EVERYTHING BUILT, ostensibly to facilitate firefighters and law enforcement. Yeh, like they really need to know WHERE the business/home vault is, or if there is a sanctuary from burglars/robbers/cops/et al.

          If all that stuff is in a database, then virtually ANYONE following the then-current ordinances should be able to walk into the planning office with a set of complete working/construction drawings without having to fuck around weeks on end wondering why the hell they are losing tens of thousands of dollars before they even open to the public. If such obstructive officials DO exist, they should be sued, THEIR assets taken or frozen or transferred to the aggrieved, and possibly, the offending officials should be jailed post-haste and barred from EVER AGAIN serving in a public official/functionary position in the COUNTRY not just the county.

          They got their shop opened up, but they paid dearly for it in money wasted. I gave them a copy of my own internet cafe business plan (spread sheet/stock rotation planning/customer flow modeling & employee head count to cope, and 2 of my new, paid-for computers just to help them out because i was fucking incensed that they were going through that shit. I wasn't going to be able to get started, but boy I was going to make sure I helped them out any way I could before and after startup.

          • by lgw (121541) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @05:24PM (#24865381) Journal

            You do know the inspectors and such just weren't being bribed properly, don't you?

            They're not holding out to mask some "-ism", they're holding out for cash. They aren't getting the few hundred or whatever it may be) they expect, so they're punishing your friends with thousands in construction do-overs. Yes, local politics is quite corrupt, just about everywhere.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              How do you know? Have you worked in or with local governments "just about everywhere"? Or are you just presenting some random libellous navel-gazing as fact?

          • by Renraku (518261) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @07:10PM (#24866627) Homepage

            Someone I used to know back in the day built a porch add-on to their house. As everyone knows, there's plenty of codes to follow. He went down to city hall, got the necessary paperwork and guidelines, and built his porch. A month later, the city came and demanded that he knock it down, as it was too close to the road.

            He told them where he got the records, from city hall itself. He showed them the copies he made showing the rule he supposedly broke (too close to the road). The city told him that the book was old, and the law had since been revised. He got the whole "It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'"

            In the end the city made him remove the porch and he never built it back. Eventually, he sold his house and moved.

            The worst part about it is that the city couldn't be bothered to keep its laws publicly-available, but they can sure as hell enforce them.

            How many of you know the laws of your own city? What about important laws, such as traffic laws? Do you know, down to the letter, what your major and minor traffic laws are? What about self-defense? Do you have to run from an attacker or can you reasonably defend yourself if attacked? This is what I hate about laws in general. Rarely are they concise and simple to understand, but its difficult to get the exact text of the law in a lot of places.

      • by memfrob (157990) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:27PM (#24863723) Homepage

        "I'm sorry, your honor, I didn't have enough money to know what laws I broke.

        "It is illegal to be poor. Off to the spice mines with you!"

        *shudder*

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by chriseyre2000 (603088)
        The dutch have a great solution to ignorance of the law. Dutch citizen are legally obligated to be familiar with the law. Pleading ignorance of the law is admitting a crime!
        • by drsmithy (35869) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (yhtimsrd)> on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @05:43PM (#24865613)

          The dutch have a great solution to ignorance of the law. Dutch citizen are legally obligated to be familiar with the law. Pleading ignorance of the law is admitting a crime!

          What is the extent of "familiar" in this context ? The entire legal code of pretty much any country is too vast and nuanced for even an expert with years (if not decades) of experience to understand, let alone the layman.

          The only people who seriously believe "ignorance of the law is not a defense" are those who wish to use it as a tool of oppression.

    • by d34thm0nk3y (653414) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:39PM (#24862855)
      Maybe if we all pirate these laws it will reduce the financial incentive of these "artists" to create new works.
    • by Rob Kaper (5960) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:42PM (#24862899) Homepage

      Is this a joke?

      Yes, parts of government increasingly look like a joke and not serious business, let alone representation of its citizens (and not: subjects).

      But you basically already answered that by elaborating on the common sense you'd expect to be applied to matters like that, but didn't find.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PinkPanther (42194)

        Yes, parts of government continuously look like a joke and not serious business

        There, fixed it for you.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by blair1q (305137)

        No, it's the result of allowing the people to elect the person who spends the most on a campaign.

    • by silentbozo (542534) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:42PM (#24862905) Journal
      Part of the problem is that lobbyists for various trade groups have gotten California to adopt existing books of industry standards as state code. The law basically incorporates whatever is the latest industry standard book... which requires money to get. Same deal with things like medical terminology. There's a "standards group" which makes money off of licensing the billing codes and selling books of what the current billing codes are.
      • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:30PM (#24863761)

        "Government, please correct my broken business model."

      • by rtechie (244489) * on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:30PM (#24863763)

        And I would say that putting it into a law explicitly removes the copyright.

        Yes, I am asserting that legislators can place ANY document of any sort into the public domain by incorporating it into a law or the legislative record. Legislators do this all the time to dodge copyright claims against whistleblowers.

      • by nevergleam (900375) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @04:59PM (#24865047)
        The article summary mentions building codes, which is an industry standard. I have knowledge of building codes being a structural engineer so I use them as an example to help frame my arguments.

        The 2007 California Building Code is not copyrighted. However, it draws almost exclusively from the International Building Code (IBC), which is copyrighted and published by the International Code Council (ICC). ICC is a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of model building codes as well as the testing and approval of construction products. The ICC has no financial interest in what it does (in principle), and makes legitimate use of copyright to continue its work.

        Should government should be allowed to adopt and enforce copyrighted works as law? If so, who should be responsible for the costs of distributing the law to the citizens? I do not believe that a work should lose the property of being copyrighted when entered into the law; however, it could easily be argued as legally allowable under the guise of eminent domain. The state, and thus its citizens, should realize the fact that adopting copyrighted material as law requires them paying for it. The ICC and all other organizations that develop industry standards should reevaluate whether it is ethical and/or reasonable to create and copyright material which is intended to be adopted into law.

        In the end, it is what Weaselmancer brought up in a sibling post: a "broken business model." I believe the state should budget and pay the code councils to do the work and get it distributed rather than indirectly and unequally tax their constituency by making them pay for the published materials (I disclose that I am one of those being disproportionately taxed).
    • by 2nd Post! (213333) <gundbear@pacREDHATbell.net minus distro> on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:44PM (#24862955) Homepage

      The memo to get milk is MORE copyrightable than the laws.

      The only way a law could be copyrighted is if they were works of art (poems or some such) and assigned to an individual or corporation (IE, not a government). And in that case if it belongs to an individual, how could it be a state law?

      • by Torvaun (1040898) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:25PM (#24863685)

        Your post made me think two things.
        1) Don't corporations own most of our laws?
        2) How awesome would it be if all laws were required to be in the form of a limerick?

    • by philspear (1142299) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:44PM (#24862959)

      Having little understanding of my state's governance, I would hazard a guess that this isn't something that's been thought out by anyone of a very high rank. This seems more like a mid-level management decision, or rather the equivalent of that in government. In other words, this seems like bureaucracy doing it's thing, not using common sense as that generally gets you in trouble. It's not suprising to me anyway that a "mid-level" bureaucrat would copyright the laws without having a reason to do so. Why not, it's taxpayer money.

      That could be naive: I'm suggesting it's not california government out to trip you up because you have to follow laws you can't know about so much as california government not being able to put their shoes on before they tie them. I admit I'm prone to believe in government incompetence before government conspiracy.

      • by ConceptJunkie (24823) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:52PM (#24863117) Homepage Journal

        I would hazard a guess that this isn't something that's been thought out by anyone of a very high rank...

        Two thoughts occur to me. First, most laws are of that caliber. It's well known that at the Federal level, legislators haven't, and in many cases, would not be capable (due to the sheer volume of many bills), read the laws they are voting on.

        The second thought is that even if it were thought out by someone of high rank, it would probably wouldn't help.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The trick they try to do is contract state work out to private companies and then allow those companies to have the copyrights.

      This is informative: Veeck vs. Southern Bldg Code [uscourts.gov] (case no. 99-40632-cv2):

      The issue in this en banc case is the extent to which a
      private organization may assert copyright protection for its model
      codes, after the models have been adopted by a legislative body and
      become âoethe lawâ. Specifically, may a code-writing organization
      prevent a website operator from posting the tex

    • by WgT2 (591074) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:52PM (#24863115) Journal

      Exactly. How do the creators of this portion of the law think their laws are not public domain? You know, 'government for the people by the people'; therefore any law created by the government is for and by the people and thus public domain.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by nospam007 (722110)

        >Exactly. How do the creators of this portion of the law think their laws are not public domain?

        Like the rest of them, I guess they want to sell you an expensive licensed copy they produce themselves.

    • by Narpak (961733) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @04:05PM (#24864279)

      The people must have access to laws in order to obey them.

      Communist! Laws should be kept secret so that terrorists can't abuse them. Whenever someone is arrested they should have to prove that what they did is not illegal; if they can't afford to buy official Law Books they are obviously parasites expecting to get something for free.

      Ignorance is Freedom!

  • by PawNtheSandman (1238854) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:35PM (#24862813)

    I wouldn't keep prodding Arnold like that.

  • Not illegal (Score:4, Interesting)

    by John Hasler (414242) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:37PM (#24862829) Homepage

    > It is illegal to copyright the law since people are required to know it.

    Copyrights on laws may be unenforceable but they are not illegal.

    • Re:Not illegal (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DannyO152 (544940) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:49PM (#24863057)

      I'd ask this question: who owns the copyrights? I'd say it's the taxpayers .

    • Re:Not illegal (Score:4, Insightful)

      by neoform (551705) <djneoform@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:57PM (#24863207) Homepage

      If a law is unenforceable, how can it be a law?

      It's illegal to commit suicide, but, what's the punishment and how can you carry it out? Therefore, you can infer that it is not actually illegal. (the attempt might be on the other hand)

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by bhtooefr (649901)

        The punishment is that, if you commit suicide, your death was caused by your commission of a crime, and therefore you're treated differently by insurance companies and such.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by vux984 (928602)

        Its actually not illegal to commit suicide in many jurisdictions.

        In places where it is illegal, its primarily to give the government more ability to intervene.

    • by moderatorrater (1095745) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:18PM (#24863567)

      Copyrights on laws may be unenforceable but they are not illegal.

      I sure am glad you popped up to split that hair. Without comments like this, where would we be?

    • Re:Not illegal (Score:5, Insightful)

      by databank (165049) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:37PM (#24863889)

      I'm confused, why are you saying its not illegal?

      According to the link posted at the top, it is very clear that copyright protection is NOT available for laws specifically.

      US.Code-Title 17.Chapter 1.Section 105:
      "Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States Government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise."

            This clearly states that the government is permitted to receive and hold copyrights for any work that is not created by the United States government (such as from a musical group or author) but works written within the government (such as tax forms and US codes) are NOT protected.
              Is there a code that can be sited that contradicts this?

    • Re:Not illegal (Score:4, Interesting)

      by kesuki (321456) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:37PM (#24863899) Journal

      well you see there is a nasty loophole in federal copyright law. works by the (federal) government may not be copyrighted, but for instance, say a private law firm was contracted to produce a law, say a law on how copyright affects online, and before submitting the law they copyright it, and include all rights to use it 'as part of their work contract' now a law about online copyright, is now copyrighted so that individuals can be sued by a lawyer for reproducing his 'copyrighted' law on internet copyright.

      so nasty lawyer then proceeds to sue the shit out of a couple dozen companies that make it their business to disclose information on pending and current bills before the senate, so that these companies can be forced to not disclose important details of how the law was written (it's copyrighted, and no rights are available to anyone but the government) or else be shut down by greedy corrupt politicians who specifically wanted the details of the law private, and others public so that everyone thinks the law was all goodness and sunshine, but really changed the law so that copyright holders can essentially with a single letter win by proxy trials in small claims against online copyright infringers, the portion of the law where specifics were copyrighted.

      basically it allows a law all about protecting the children and what not from pedos to contain a clause that because it's all copyrighted not be disseminated and do something like put 10 billion dollars into a an unrelated bridge to nowhere in alaska, that is gold plated.

      very bad precedent, laws shouldn't be copyrighted not even by lawyers who work on them. too much incentive to bury copyrighted sections that because they're copyrighted nobody will disseminate them, because the moment they try to they're shut down... copyrighted sections that might be extremely unpopular(or downright dangerous) in an otherwise very popular sounding bill. such as say, a law allowing the president to privately execute any judge on any federal court including the supreme court, and instantly name a successor, and under the law the cause of death is officially 'heart attack' caused of course by lethal injection.

  • Baffling (Score:5, Interesting)

    by geekmansworld (950281) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:37PM (#24862839) Homepage

    This view by certain US states that laws are copyrighted material is plexing to me. The laws are written by people, on materials, that are funded by the taxpayer. Therefore, laws are PUBLIC property.

    And what point does copyrighting ones' laws serve? Is it about publication rights? If ignorance of the law is no excuse, then why is access not free to all.

    Baffling.

    • Re:Baffling (Score:5, Informative)

      by autocracy (192714) <slashdot2007 AT storyinmemo DOT com> on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:48PM (#24863045) Homepage
      The biggest issue comes down to things like building codes in small towns. They buy a model code from some company. See Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. [cornell.edu]
    • Re:Baffling (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cvd6262 (180823) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:11PM (#24863457)

      This happens all the time. The judiciary doesn't want to deal with people - they want to deal with lawyers.... who get paid by the people.

      I once had to fight a ticket in a small town traffic court. I requested a deposition via registered mail, and in my state, if the deposition isn't sent within 30 days the ticket becomes defective. It had been almost 2 months, and I still didn't have it.

      As my court date approached, I took the issue up with the town clerk (who only worked a few hours, four days a week). She had never heard that they needed to send out the depositions before the court date (kind of hard to defend oneself without knowing the officer's account), but said she would take it up with the judge. In the meantime, I sent the court, again by registered mail, a notarized motion to dismiss on the grounds that the ticket was defective.

      After another week of trying, the secretary finally caved and gave me the judge's work number (he owned the gas station in the town). He was unclear on the particulars of depositions, so he pushed my court date back and then he added:

      "You know, you're not really following the proper procedures."

      "OK. What are the proper procedures?"

      "I can't tell you."

      So, it comes as no surprise that government wants to hide laws from the people.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        "I can't tell you."

        So, it comes as no surprise that government wants to hide laws from the people.

        You're drawing the wrong conclusion from that exchange.

        The judge in your contested ticket can't provide you with legal assistance in preparing or executing your defense or otherwise pursuing litigation on that matter.

        What you should have done was contacted an attorney, law school, or legal aid clinic in the area for help.

        He wasn't hiding anything from you. In fact, what he said was helping you, although you apparently missed it. He was telling you that you were not conducting yourself in compliance with t

  • by davidwr (791652) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:43PM (#24862923) Homepage Journal

    In Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress International [google.com], the 5th Circuit held that laws are not copyrightable.

    I didn't read the opinion but I'm pretty sure they had precedent.

    • by Speare (84249) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:02PM (#24863335) Homepage Journal

      The 5th Circuit does not include California. California is part of the 9th Circuit. If the two courts disagree on a particular substantially similar issue, then it can be sent to the Supreme Court of the United States to be decided finally. This is the whole point of the Circuit Courts.

      What bothers ME is this line from the summary above:

      Malamud wants California to sue him, which is almost a given if the state wants to continue claiming copyright.

      This sounds like the usual misunderstanding. Copyright, unlike Trademark, remains in force even if not actively defended. The holder of the copyright could lay low forever, and only sue those who they want to sue. If the submitter did indeed think that the copyright holder might lose their exclusive rights due to inaction, I have to ask, WHY IS THIS SO HARD TO UNDERSTAND? Copyright, Patent, Trademark, Secret. They all have very different legal semantics.

      • by TubeSteak (669689) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:35PM (#24863853) Journal

        Malamud wants California to sue him, which is almost a given if the state wants to continue claiming copyright.

        This sounds like the usual misunderstanding. Copyright, unlike Trademark, remains in force even if not actively defended. The holder of the copyright could lay low forever, and only sue those who they want to sue.

        If they don't sue him, he'll publish all their laws online and the issue becomes moot.
        I imagine if California thinks there is a real copyright claim, they'll sue before that happens.

  • by Jailbrekr (73837) <jailbrekr@digitaladdiction.net> on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:44PM (#24862941) Homepage

    That would mean that "ignorance of the law" IS a valid excuse.

    • by Indagator (1266958) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:54PM (#24863169)

      That would mean that "ignorance of the law" IS a valid excuse.

      Don't be ridiculous; it means you'll have to pay an additional licensing fee to read the citation against you.

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:57PM (#24863231) Homepage

      That would mean that "ignorance of the law" IS a valid excuse.

      No, it's just an indication of which way we're going.

      You've broken a law we can't tell you about, but you're guilty anyway. You're not allowed to tell someone else we've arrested you for the law, since the law precludes that. We can't give your lawyer a description of the law or the charges against you because the law precludes that.

      Sadly, I think that's the PATRIOT act. :(

      Cheers

      • by Thelasko (1196535) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:08PM (#24863409) Journal

        No, it's just an indication of which way we're going.

        You've broken a law we can't tell you about, but you're guilty anyway. You're not allowed to tell someone else we've arrested you for the law, since the law precludes that. We can't give your lawyer a description of the law or the charges against you because the law precludes that.

        Sadly, I think that's the PATRIOT act. :(

        Cheers

        It's not the PATRIOT act because the PATRIOT act is published. But there is proof of such law in Gilmore v. Gonzales. [wikipedia.org]

        I'm generally against more laws, but if there ever was a constitutional amendment I could get behind, it's that all laws should be available to the public without charge.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Dragonslicer (991472)

          I'm generally against more laws, but if there ever was a constitutional amendment I could get behind, it's that all laws should be available to the public without charge.

          How sad of a commentary on the American legal system that people see a need for a constitutional amendment to ensure that citizens can read laws.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by geekoid (135745)

        Stop it, just. Stop.
        Spreading that kind of FUD is harmful.
        That is not what is going on here.
        Lexus-Nexus claims they control the copyright becasue they have a contract to maintain those laws.
        This is naturally incorrect and a company trying to use FUD to maintain a perceived monopoly.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:46PM (#24862995)

    Carl Malamud is aiding the terrists! If the laws are freely available to be known by the public, the terrists will find out and obey them to avoid being caught!

  • Legal Publishers. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Irvu (248207) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @02:53PM (#24863145)

    Until quite recently many states (Pennsylvania being the last) did not post their laws online at all or make them available to the public for free. In many cases the only way to get access to the actual laws was to purchase a copy from the state's legal publisher or look them up in a legal library, (which exists on ever street corner). This is as true for statutes of the type that Malamud is focusing on as caselaw which is an essential facet of law in the U.S. and other Common Law countries.

    Efforts to change this have routinely been fought by legal publishers who hold lucrative monopolies on the publication of laws and their dissemination. There also exists a generational gap in many cases with a generation accustomed to having the law on paper not really understanding why one would look online.

    So ironically what Malamud is doing is not "fighting for the norm" of freely accessible laws but fighting for something new. While many people are fond of the cant "ignorance of the law is no excuse", for most of recent U.S. history laws have been hidden.

    Good luck to him.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by swb (14022)

      I thought this *was* the gimmick -- a given state claims copyright on the state laws laws, rules & statues and then sells a license to these to some legal publisher like Thomson/West or LexisNexis, either for cash money, free services or whatever. A handy agreement that makes a buck or two, gains some free access and helps protect a nice little monopoly for West/Lexis.

      In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they had a special law passed to claim only commercial for-profit copyright, and bestow 'free' statu

  • by Scarletdown (886459) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:00PM (#24863299) Journal
    So then, how long before people start posting assorted CA laws all over the Internet? I'd start by posting the one about a $500 fine for detonating a nuke inside the Chico, CA city limits. But I can't verify whether or not that is a real law or an urban legend.
  • by arthurpaliden (939626) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:01PM (#24863303)
    I am sorry Sir I cannot tell you that would put me in violation of copyright. However, I can sell you a copy of the Traffic Act and then point out the relivent section. So Sir will that be cash or charge?
  • by sampson7 (536545) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @03:34PM (#24863845)
    There are some serious misunderstandings of what is going on here. As discussed below, the law is clear that there is no legal right to copyright the text of a law. However, an entity can copyright the presentation and organization of those laws. As I understand what is actually happening here (notwithstanding the boneheaded and ignorant quote from the State of California spokesperson):

    1. The State of California provides selected vendors with up-to-date and easy-to-reproduce electronic versions of State laws in exchange for a payment.

    2. The vendor then formats and compiles these laws, and includes them in its proprietary database. Lexis-Nexis, the vendor in this case, also provides the public with free access to a limited version of its database, while providing enhanced access through a pay service.

    3. In exchange for the payment, the State of California agrees not to provide the same service it provides to Lexis, Westlaw, etc. for free.

    What the legal gadfly here is really protesting is the sale by the State of California of copies of its laws that are in a usable form. Anyone is free to comb the public records maintained by the State Legislature and compile its own California Code. These documents are all publicly available and posted as soon as they are passed by the Legislature. What the Legislature provides, however, is not easy to read and not organized in a particularly sensible manner. The State essentially provides the service of compiling these laws and sells that compilation to Lexis. It is this compilation that the State is claiming a copyright on -- not the text of the laws themselves.

    In the most famous Supreme Court case on this topic, Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991), the Justices held that no one can hold a copyright in a particular phone number. However, a company can collect tens of thousands of phone numbers, organize them alphabetically, and then claim a copyright in the finished product (i.e., the phone book). As the court in Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. describes the holding of the Feist case and subspequent precedent:

    The statute excludes from copyright protection ideas, procedures, processes, systems methods of operation, or information in the public domain. . . . If an idea is susceptible to only one form of expression, the merger doctrine applies and Sec. 102(b) excludes the expression from the Copyright Act. As the Supreme Court has explained it, this "idea/expression dichotomy strike[s] a definitional balance between the First Amendment and the Copyright Act by permitting free communication of facts while still protecting an author's expression."

    What the author of the TFA did get right is that there is no right to copyright the text of particular laws. The court in Veeck did an excellent job describing the history of attempts to copyright laws, so I simply quote it below:

    Excluding "the law" from the purview of the copyright statutes dates back to this nation's earliest period. In 1834, the Supreme Court interpreted the first federal copyright laws and unanimously held that "no reporter has or can have any copyright in the written opinions delivered by this Court. . ." Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591, 668 (1834). The case arose when one of the Court's official reporters was asserting copyright protection for his annotated compilations of Supreme Court opinions. The Court distinguished between the reporter's individual work and the Justices' opinions. The Court's rejection of copyright for judicial opinions paralleled the principle -- recognized by attorneys for both parties -- that "[s]tatutes were never copyrighted."(3) Based on the acknowledged and incontestable analogy with legislative acts, Wheaton held unanimously that "the law" in the form of judicial opinions may not be copyrighted.

    The same broad understanding of what c

    • by nmos (25822) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @04:12PM (#24864387)

      Hold up a minute. You say:
      In the most famous Supreme Court case on this topic, Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991), the Justices held that no one can hold a copyright in a particular phone number. However, a company can collect tens of thousands of phone numbers, organize them alphabetically, and then claim a copyright in the finished product (i.e., the phone book).

      But that's NOT what the Supreme Court said, at not the way I read it. :

      [55] Because Rural's white pages lack the requisite originality, Feist's use of the listings cannot constitute infringement.

      So you CANNOT claim copyright on a simple alphabetical listing of names and phone numbers because it is not original or creative enough.

  • by coats (1068) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @04:28PM (#24864639) Homepage
    IANAL, but... There is quite a bit of precedent here, and the general principle seems to be that such copyright claims are against public policy. Some commentary on a previous case (Oregon, also involving Justia and Carl Malamud) is as follows:

    This was covered last April by William Patry (author of the text, Patry on Copyright), perhaps the most distinguished copyright attorney on the planet, see: http://williampatry.blogspot.com/2008/04/oregon-goes-wacka-wacka-huna-kuna.html [blogspot.com]

    IMNHO, this kind of action, whether by California or Oregon, is an abomination, anathema to the idea of rule of law.

    From Banks & Bros. v. West Pub. Co., 27 F. 50 (C.C.D. Minn. 1886):

    [I]t is a maxim of universal application that every man is presumed to know the law, and it would seem inherent that freedom of access to the laws, or the official interpretation of those laws, should be co-extensive with the sweep of the maxim. Knowledge is the only just condition of obedience. The laws of Rome were written on tablets and posted, that all might read, and all were bound to obedience. The act of that emperor who caused his enactments to be written in small letters, on small tablets, and then posted the latter at such height that none could read the letters, and at the same time insisted upon the rule of obedience, outraging as it did the relations of governor and governed under his own system of government, has never been deemed consistent with or possible under ours... Each citizen is a ruler,--a lawmaker,--and as such has the right of access to the laws he joins in making and to any official interpretation thereof.

  • Bad Journalism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hjalmar (7270) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @05:06PM (#24865137)

    That article is so full of inaccuracies it's astounding.

    First: with the exception of the Building Code, California's laws (regulations, specifically) are not copyrighted. They're also free on the Internet, and can be downloaded for free, and saved on your local computer for free. A Google Search for "california regulations" will give you a variety of free sources, including the state's own Office of Administrative Law.

    Except for the Building Code. Here the article's alarmist tone (and Malamud's apocalyptic stance) are entirely justified. The California Building Code was written by the International Conference of Building Officials, and the ICBO owns the copyright. It's stupid, and probably illegal, but that's the way things stand.

    The 5th Circuit case someone mentioned is a similar circumstance. But unfortunately (for those of us in California) California is in the 9th Circuit, so the 5th Circuit's decision doesn't apply.

  • by Guppy06 (410832) on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @06:06PM (#24865915)

    Oh yeah, here! [slashdot.org]

    7 years ago? God I'm old.

  • by DeanFox (729620) * <spam.myname@gmai l . c om> on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @06:51PM (#24866411)

    This is the way it worked when I was out there. Some private company writes the building codes. They put together a package of thousands of building regulations, codes, etc. They call it a model and create/print a book. Then the private company copyrights it. They submit the building codes to the state legislators who adopt it as their building code model and thus they become law.

    To get a building code book you have to pay the company who developed them $2,000+ for their printed version. The state didn't have their own version, they used the same books I had to buy from the private company. The state didn't have a copy to give/sell me if they wanted too. When I protested (20 years ago) the state said not our problem we don't control the copyright, the company who developed and prints the books owns the copyright. We just adopted it as law.

    The article seems to be saying that now that the state owns the copyright. Things can change in 20+ years. Maybe as part of the deal the private company now transfers the copyright when the model is adopted or the reporter misunderstood. Still doesn't matter. It needs to get fixed. It's definitely a racket by the companies writing all these laws. The state will support them too. If it wasn't for the private companies the state would actually have to write their own laws and they're not setup to do that.

    -[d]-
  • by cenonce (597067) <anthony_t@[ ].com ['mac' in gap]> on Wednesday September 03, 2008 @07:31PM (#24866885)

    Unfortunately, many Slashdotters are misreading Section 105. That section of the Copyright Act applies only to the Federal government, NOT the several states, nor to local (county, municipal or borough) governments. I absolutely disagree with a state government claiming copyright on its own laws, but it is technically possible.

    I have seen in other posts this Veeck case cited. I haven't read the whole thing, but just the summary tells me that the issue came down to a private company claiming copyright on laws that were codified by a legislature. That is not the same as a state claiming copyright in a document (any, document, including the text of a law) it has created. A Westlaw v. Lexis case (see "Legal Disputes" section here) [wikipedia.org] upheld copyright years ago on the entire work simply because Westlaw put casebook style page numbering in their version of the legal text. All Westlaw was doing was taking the government work and matching up the page numbers in their electronic version!

    Like I said, I think this type of conduct is reprehensible from a state, but not technically illegal. Malamud is really (IMHO) banking on the PR nightmare of Cali actually filing a copyright infringement suit against him.

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