Copyright

Official Law of Georgia Is Copyrighted, and the State Enforces That Copyright

An open-records activist sent a copy of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated to prominent Georgia politicians and lawyers and got a copyright lawsuit.

|

A district judge has ruled that the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OGCA), the official state law of Georgia, was subject to copyright, and that its dissemination was not covered by fair use, Ars Technica reports.

Open-records activist Carl Malamud purchased a hard copy of the OGCA for $1,207.02 (with shipping) from Lexis-Nexis (which compiles the OGCA for Georgia) and subsequently sent digital copies on USB drives to the state house speaker and a number of other Georgia politicians and lawyers and posted it on Public.Records.org, Ars Technica explains.

The state of Georgia, and the Code Revision Commission (CRC), a government body, brought a lawsuit against the website, accusing it of violating copyright. Attorneys for the website argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because the OCGA, as the official state law of Georgia, was not copyrightable, and that even if it were, public dissemination would fall under fair use.

The judge, Richard Story, disagreed, ruling that even though the OCGA is the official state law of Georgia, the annotations in it were copyrightable because the Copyright Law includes annotations as copyrightable material. He further dismissed the argument that disseminating the OCGA to the public fell under fair use, because the use was not "transformative" and because, even though it was non-commercial, courts have ruled that non-profit use of copyrighted material could yield "profits" such as "an indirect economic benefit or a non-monetary, professional benefit."

The CRC, as Story noted, "has 'the ultimate right of editorial control." The lawsuit was brought by the commission, not Lexis-Nexis, the company the CRC hires to produce the official law of the state of Georgia. The commission receives royalties from sales of the CD-ROM and physical copies of the OCGA, and it collected $85.747.91 in fiscal year 2014. The purpose of copyright is supposed to be to "promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." Contemporary copyright law already stretches the understanding of "limited time" to time periods generally greater than human lifespans. In this case, the promotion of progress is completely indiscernible. After all, would the commission and Georgia's lawmakers in the legislative and judicial branches stop their work if it weren't enforceable by copyright?

Read the opinion, via Ars Technica, here.

NEXT: Why the Wall Won't Work

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. and that even if it were, public dissemination would fall under fair use.

    Even if it were, that copyright belongs to the People of Georgia.

  2. even though it was non-commercial, courts have ruled that non-profit use of copyrighted material could yield “profits” such as “an indirect economic benefit or a non-monetary, professional benefit.”

    …such as knowing what the goddamn law fucking is. Jesus Christ, Georgia.

    1. Knowing the law is a regrettable loophole. This should soon be remedied.

  3. But, hey, at least you can carry a gun in a Georgia bar. (You can still, right? I don’t want to pay to look it up.)

      1. This story was at the lefty Ars Technica too. I cited the link you cited for free online public Georgia code access.

        This is making a mountain out of mole hill.

        Georgia has many more things wrong than not being able to order a papers version of the GA code for less than $1200. One thing is that they lock people up for not paying child support or fines. They lock you up in jail for not paying something- because being in jail allows one to earn money to pay.

  4. Isn’t there another state that does this?

    I really don’t get it. What purpose could there be for copyrighting the law?

    1. You have to copyright it to know what’s in it?

    2. So Lexis-Nexis can earn hundreds of dollars a copy selling it to lawyers, allowing them to make big donations to Georgia State legislators.

    3. The law is not copyrighted. The annotated version of the law are annotated. Someone has to do the work to annotate all the crappy laws on the books. In this case usually LexisNexis and they have to pay someone to do it.

      The unannotated version of the Georgia Code is not copyrighted.

      1. Except L-N isn’t the plaintiff in the lawsuit, the govt body is.

      2. And of course the “sweat of the brow” doctrine was thrown out decades ago by SCOTUS in that phone book case.

  5. What the hell is up with all this stupidity coming out of Georgia today?

    1. as a georgian, we don’t even hear about this. Being that this is in reason, and not in any local paper or news story, we will never know.

      I wonder if this will be a legatimate argument against the “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”. Some lawyer will use this as a defense, and that if remedying the ignorance has a paywall, certain minorities will of course be disinfranchised which will violate the constitution.. so after 10 years of court proceedings, maybe something will change.

  6. I don’t understand the point of this exercise. Georgia pays lexis-nexis to distribute the laws for free online.

    Why didn’t he just send a link?

    http://www.lexisnexis.com/hott…..efault.asp

    1. I was unaware of this. does the website contain the same annotations as the physical copy?

      1. No, so it’s not actually Georgia’s laws; it’s the cliff notes of Georgia’s law.

    2. Because then you are constrained by their interface. With all the data, you can search and transform as you see fit.

  7. Here’s a little help, in the unlikely event Malamud or his lawyer read these comments:

    VEECK v. SOUTHERN BUILDING CODE CONGRESS INTERNATIONAL, INC.

  8. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Also, you have to pay us to find out what the law is.

  9. After all, would the commission and Georgia’s lawmakers in the legislative and judicial branches stop their work if it weren’t enforceable by copyright?

    Probably not, but it’s worth a shot.

  10. “…would the commission and Georgia’s lawmakers in the legislative and judicial branches stop their work if it weren’t enforceable by copyright?”

    This question seems related to the question of whether, for example, parties who must get permits to act must wait, helplessly, while the permit-granting authority is shut down or suspended (for another example) by executive order. If a school wanted to renovate, but had to get an environmental commission’s OK before beginning work, then what happens if an executive order from above halts the permitting process? Must the school wait indefinitely for the wheels of government to start grinding again? My feeling is that, in these and similar situations, people and other parties should just be able to go about their business without, or in spite of the thing that is “gumming up the works.” For the poor school, it should immediately receive a permit waiver, for instance, and should get the benefit of the doubt, if ever the permit-agency starts up again and comes after them. The copyright issue is twistier. It is hard for me to justify government having an enforceable copyright on anything, except, perhaps to secure the integrity of laws and otherwise freely-copiable public documents. What a crazy case!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.