Making Laws Free

Man, to state: Copyright this!


In California the law is copyrighted. That means it's illegal for citizens to copy or distribute the law of the land among themselves. An official digital copy of the California Code costs $1,556; a printed copy is $2,315. According to the California Office of Administrative Law, the state generates about $880,000 annually by selling its own laws to its own people.

So Carl Malamud, a longtime crusader for openness and transparency in government, decided to take the law into his own hands-literally. He digitally scanned 33,000 pages and posted the entire California Code of Regulations, all 150 pounds of it, at his website public.resource.org.

Malamud, a pioneer in Internet radio and other online arenas, has made a hobby out of goading government agencies into becoming more Internetfriendly. In 1994 he chivvied the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission into posting corporate filings online, leading to a boom in corporate finance websites and market trackers. Oregon stopped claiming copyright over its laws in June, thanks in part to some meddling by Malamud. He also encouraged C-SPAN to open up access to its video archive. Malamud says his goal for the next three years is to destroy the idea that law can be copyrighted. He already has posted safety and building codes for almost all 50 states and for several counties and cities. The hope, he says, is that making laws more broadly available will lead to useful remixes and adaptations, such as a site where contractors could annotate zoning regulations and building codes. By breaking one law, Malamud is hoping to make compliance easier for everyone else.