December 5, 2020

New York Times Editorial: “The Law©?: No One Owns the Law, and No One Should Be Able to Copyright It”

From The New York Times:

No one owns the law, because the law belongs to everyone. It’s a principle that seems so obvious that most people wouldn’t give it a second thought. But that’s what is at issue in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, a case about whether the State of Georgia can assert copyright in its annotated state code. This week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in its next term.

Americans deserve free and easy access to public records of all kinds, including court documents. But access to the law is the most important of all: Democracy depends on it. Keeping the law free of copyright is the first step.

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If the law is confused, it is in part thanks to the Supreme Court, which handed down two rulings on the subject in 1888. One stated that the law is in the public domain, and the other said that compiling the law with a table of contents, summaries and an index could be copyrightable. It’s this latter case that the State of Georgia relies on.

The modern-day outsourcing of regulations to the private sector makes this issue all the more important to take up anew. If the law belongs to anyone, it belongs to the people. After a hundred or so years of confusion, the Supreme Court now has the chance to affirm this principle of self-governance.

Read the Complete Editorial (588 words)

Background

See Also: “Accused of ‘Terrorism’ For Putting Legal Materials Online” (May 13, 2019)

Report: 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Rules State of Georgia Cannot Copyright State Code Annotations (October 18, 2018)

See Also: EFF: “Win for Public Right to Know: Court Vacates Injunction Against Publishing the Law” (July 18, 2018)

See Also: Center For Democracy & Technology: “Paywall to Georgia’s State Legal Code a Broad Misapplication of Copyright Protections” (May 25, 2017)

See Also: Library Copyright Alliance Joins Amicus Brief: Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc.

See Also: Report: “U.S. Court Ruling Sparks Debate Over Access to Laws in the Digital Space” (Feb. 16, 2017)

See Also: Techdirt: “State Of Georgia Sues Carl Malamud For Copyright Infringement For Publishing The State’s Own Laws” (July 24, 2015)

About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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