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City Laws Only Available Via $200 License 411

Posted by kdawson
from the calling-doctor-malamud dept.
MrLint writes "The City of Schenectady has decided that their laws are copyrighted, and that you cannot know them without paying for an 'exclusive license' for $200. This is not a first — Oregon has claimed publishing of laws online is a copyright violation." This case is nuanced. The city has contracted with a private company to convert and encode its laws so they can be made available on the Web for free. While the company works on this project, it considers the electronic versions of the laws its property and offers a CD version, bundled with its software, for $200. The man who requested a copy of the laws plans to appeal.
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City Laws Only Available Via $200 License

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  • New form of taxes! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ircmaxell (1117387) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:03AM (#30086112) Homepage
    I wonder how the 'ignorance of the law is no excuse' standpoint would be upheld given that you may not be economically able to know the laws...
    • But (Score:4, Funny)

      by igny (716218) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:05AM (#30086124) Homepage Journal
      Think of the lawyers!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dunbal (464142)

      Exactly the point I was going to make. Besides, I think the value of properties in that town is a trade secret, but we'll declare the property to be worth $100. What percentage annual property tax were they charging again?

    • by buttersnout (832768) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:16AM (#30086252)
      In my experience the "ignorance of the law is no excuse" standpoint holds up whether or not you have a good excuse for your ignorance. The police once copied down my address incorrectly on a ticket (they ignored my correct address on the copy of the ticket I mailed in) causing a summons to court, a notice of default judgement against me, a notice that my ticket was unpaid and a notice that my license had been suspended to be sent to the wrong address. I was later charged with driving with a suspended license after an accident a few months later. I discovered what had happened after some digging at the bureau of public records. I explained what had happened to the judge and he told me the ignorance of the law is ones own fault period. The fact that the state had tried to contact me was sufficient on their part. It is always your responsibility to become informed of the law regardless of any difficulties you have.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        This is unfair, but necessary for the proper function of the wheels of justice. It's also unfair when an innocent person is convicted and sentenced to jail, but that is also necessary for the proper functioning of the wheels of justice. Justice demands that it's wheels are regularly lubricated with innocent blood. If you don't want bad-guys running rampant, then you have to throw some virgins into the mangler. It's the price of justice.
        • by Minozake (1227554) <ltdonny@gmail.com> on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:28AM (#30086398) Journal
          I'd rather have no justice.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Conzar (1603461)
          The wheels of justice have fallen off. There is no justice especially when the laws are corrupt. It is impossible for everyone to know all of the laws; therefore, the system is broken. Why is it in the USA we have the most people in Prison in the entire world? Instead of passing more laws, our politicians should actively seek real solutions that end poverty, crime, and war; however, this does not make good business. So they ignore these social problems and continue down the path of fascism.
          • by digitalunity (19107) <digitalunity@yah ... om minus painter> on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:54AM (#30086750) Homepage

            Most countries have more laws than people can remember. It's a natural progression of law codified in specific legal language, combined with capitalism that lets market forces get in the pockets of politicians and get specific alterations or amendments made for their benefit.

            Your example about the number of people we have in prison isn't related to this topic. A large number of them are in prison for non-violent drug offenses-something they knew was illegal. I don't believe our war on drugs is really about drugs, it's about making minorities criminals.

            I do agree though, we have far too many laws. Those laws that should exist often are far too long. If I wanted a paper copy of all the laws that apply to me, meaning township, county, state and federal law, it would fill my entire house to the top. That is insane.

            • by mitgib (1156957) on Friday November 13, 2009 @12:34PM (#30087978) Homepage Journal

              Your example about the number of people we have in prison isn't related to this topic. A large number of them are in prison for non-violent drug offenses-something they knew was illegal. I don't believe our war on drugs is really about drugs, it's about making minorities criminals.

              I think you've touched on something, but not the full grasp of the situation. I think the higher percentage of minorities being in prison is due to their lack of resources to acquire a proper defense. But disregard the makeup of our prison population and look only at the sheer number of prisoners, and it seems to me to be a new form of bringing back slavery, with corporate run prisons being the new plantation owners. These corporations are charging a fee to the states they house prisoners for and that fee will cover the operating costs as well as a profit. Now add in labor costs they can earn from selling the use of the prisoners for or manufacturing they do within the walls of the prison constructing products. More profit.

              So now we have another new, large, powerful, deep pocketed lobbying group pushing for harsher laws and stiffer penalties to grow the population of these new slaves, to the point of one day we will either be a prisoner or a prison guard.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by erroneus (253617)

            I would venture to guess that any and all solutions would involve eating into the profits of those who fund the politicians the most. This, of course, is unacceptable.

            The first thing that should be done is to prevent any company from being considered as a "person." After that, a lot of things would change. But there are still other problems such as the fact that wages earned are not "income" and yet are still being taxed as if they were. Meanwhile, big business has their taxable income protected in shel

          • by Ex-MislTech (557759) on Friday November 13, 2009 @02:22PM (#30089536)

            Ayn Rand - ""There's no way to rule innocent men.
            The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals.
            Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them.
            One declares so many things to be a crime
            that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws." "

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Sorry, bucko, but that's exactly how the American Justice System is NOT supposed to work. Sure, the innocent still get convicted wrongly, but it's not a necessary function of the system. It's a glitch in the system, one that we strive to eliminate. And before you turn this into a false dilemma, we also want to eliminate the converse glitch: guilty people walking on technicalities. It's a balancing act with no clear proportions, though we (should) tend slightly toward preserving the innocent.

      • by Mathinker (909784)

        Welcome to government, where you don't have to be responsible for your own mistakes, because you make the rules.

        The judge sounds like an idiot, and probably is. Does he realize what kind of funding the state's DMV would need if every state resident took him seriously, and contacted the DMV four or more times a year to make sure his/her license hasn't been suspended and to check that they don't have any outstanding tickets? And how much economic damage that might cause the state because of lost work?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by palegray.net (1195047)

          and contacted the DMV four or more times a year

          That, sir, sounds like an outstanding opportunity for a community campaign. I'd make it four or five times a week though... per person.

          • by Jared555 (874152) on Friday November 13, 2009 @11:25AM (#30087114)

            I always thought it would be a good idea to do that with comcast. Have a bunch of people call them every single day to check their bandwidth usage. I wonder what the costs of having thousands of people making support calls (preferably all at about the same time of day) to verify the amount of transfer they have left that month compares to getting rid of the limit

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        You could have easily appealed that. There is a huge difference between ignorance of the law, and being psychic and knowing they had tried to notify you.

        When you sent the ticket in, with your correct address, you met your obligations with regards to that ticket. It is up to the courts and police to notify you at the correct address. No reasonable judge or court system could expect an individual who never received notification, because the courts sent the information to the incorrect address to realize th

      • by russotto (537200) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:40AM (#30086578) Journal

        I discovered what had happened after some digging at the bureau of public records. I explained what had happened to the judge and he told me the ignorance of the law is ones own fault period.

        Judge was an idiot. Ignorance of the _law_ is no excuse. Ignorance of specific FACTS often is; ignorance of the law in your case would be if you knew your license was suspended but you didn't know that driving with a suspended license was illegal.

        In this case, the courts will (as usual) rule for the government. On two grounds
        1) You can always head down to the state capital and examine the laws in their law library, on paper.
        2) States have long been incorporating copyrighted codes into their laws by reference, and the courts have been perfectly happy to let them do it. Want to add an electrical outlet? That'll be $$$$ for the NEC, please.

        The more interesting case will be if some enterprising person buys the $200 CD, strips the laws themselves out of it (minus any formatting or commentary by the publishing company), and posts them or starts selling his own CD.

        • by rantingkitten (938138) <kitten AT mirrorshades DOT org> on Friday November 13, 2009 @01:41PM (#30088840) Homepage
          The judge may have been an idiot but that is the usual view of judges who deal with traffic court, where normal conventions do not apply. The state skirts around most protections guaranteed to you, the defendant, by classing the charges as "administrative violations" or something similar, rather than "criminal charges". Since the Constitution only guarantees rights of the accused for criminal prosecutions, presto! You suddenly have no right to a trial by jury, or for an attorney. "Innocent until proven guilty," while not precisely codified by the Constitution, is also a concept that has no meaning in traffic court.

          This has been going on for a long, long, long time. Here's Mr Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, to describe it for us:

          We sat on wooden benches in a lock-up partitioned off from the Court Room, for four hours, awaiting judgment -not awaiting trial, because they don't try people there, but only just take a percentage of their cash, and let them go without further ceremony. .... I stayed by and watched them dispense justice a while and observed that in all small offences the policeman's charge on the books was received as entirely sufficient, and sentence passed without a question being asked of either accused or witnesses...

          Nothing -- absolutely nothing -- has changed since Clemens' time, well over one hundred years later.

          Here's an example. In 2005 my insurance lapsed for a day because I forgot to pay or something. I don't know, it was years ago. Anyway, in Georgia, apparently the state gets notified when this happens, and suspends your tag. Not your license, mind you -- your tag. I had no idea this happened, they just did it. For the next several years I went about my business, including getting my tag updated annually, and even being pulled over a few times, with nary a word about this from any of the tag office clerks, police, or anyone else.

          Finally, one cop noticed, pulled me over, and arrested me for driving on the suspended tag. I went to jail because of this.

          The judge decided it was my fault and blah blah blah ignorance is no excuse yadda yadda. The truth is, I had been dutifully updating my tag every year as required, which should say something about my intent to fully comply with the law, and I'd think that any rational person would see that no offense was meant and no harm was done, so send me on my way. But no.

          That's how the justice system works. The laws are so numerous, so convoluted, and updated and modified so frequently, that we as a society freely acknowledge that the average person has no way of understanding it, which is why we have specialty occupations like lawyers. But we expect the average person to comply with all these laws he can't understand, too.

          It really doesn't matter that the laws are theoretically available for anyone to read. No mortal human has time for that. Even lawyers tend to specialise in one specific area of law, and when asked about some other area, will give you mostly blank looks.

          To an extent, I think ignorance of the law is a fine excuse. Clearly there are certain things that are known to be illegal across the vast majority of the populace, but there are way too many people being prosecuted and going through immense legal hassle over minor violations of obscure laws nobody knows or cares about except the state when they need some excuse to extort more money from the citizenry.

      • by DustyShadow (691635) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:45AM (#30086648) Homepage

        In my experience the "ignorance of the law is no excuse" standpoint holds up whether or not you have a good excuse for your ignorance. The police once copied down my address incorrectly on a ticket (they ignored my correct address on the copy of the ticket I mailed in) causing a summons to court, a notice of default judgement against me, a notice that my ticket was unpaid and a notice that my license had been suspended to be sent to the wrong address. I was later charged with driving with a suspended license after an accident a few months later. I discovered what had happened after some digging at the bureau of public records. I explained what had happened to the judge and he told me the ignorance of the law is ones own fault period. The fact that the state had tried to contact me was sufficient on their part. It is always your responsibility to become informed of the law regardless of any difficulties you have.

        That judge is an idiot. You weren't ignorant of the laws. You were ignorant of the facts. Sorry that happened.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by digitalunity (19107)

        Something kind of similar happened to me in 2006. I was pulled over and ticketed speeding in a neighboring county. I paid the ticket late, but called the courthouse to be sure there was no late fee. She said there was not a late fee.

        Well, she was wrong. They assessed a late fee and my payment was insufficient. The court did not send me any notice that my ticket was unpaid. The DMV said they sent me a letter letting me know my license was suspended, but I never received it. A year later, I was pulled over an

      • In my experience the "ignorance of the law is no excuse" standpoint holds up whether or not you have a good excuse for your ignorance. The police once copied down my address incorrectly on a ticket (they ignored my correct address on the copy of the ticket I mailed in) causing a summons to court, a notice of default judgement against me, a notice that my ticket was unpaid and a notice that my license had been suspended to be sent to the wrong address. I was later charged with driving with a suspended license after an accident a few months later. I discovered what had happened after some digging at the bureau of public records. I explained what had happened to the judge and he told me the ignorance of the law is ones own fault period. The fact that the state had tried to contact me was sufficient on their part. It is always your responsibility to become informed of the law regardless of any difficulties you have.

        Though it sounds like you were treated unfairly, this is not a true example of the "ignorance of the law" principle in operation. (As a side note, the IRS lost a similar case a few years ago. The court did not buy the argument that they had informed the citizen by sending notices to the wrong address.)

        Despite what know-it-alls say, the "ignorance of the law" principle is not absolute. It is a compromise which favors the state against the citizen. In most cases the citizen is assumed to know about any la

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DavidTC (10147)

          The GP's case isn't ignorance of the law at all.

          It is an entirely different thing, ignorance of the facts. This is because most laws require 'intent'.

          It is illegal for me to steal mail out of my neighbor's mailbox, whether I know that law or not. Not knowing that law is not going to help me.

          If their mail gets put in my box, and I fail to notice that a piece of mail is addressed to them and I open it, that is tampering with mail, but it not intentionally tampering with the mail, and hence not illegal. I d

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702)
        Three words:

        Seek.
        Legal.
        Advice.
    • by Kartoffel (30238) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:20AM (#30086304)

      The company that's typing up these laws got sucked into a bad deal. They probably signed a contract believing they would hold a copyright over the laws. Bullshit. At most, that company has a copyright over the CD version that they're creating.

      The laws themselves are public domain, as laws must be. To claim anything else renders the City of Schenectady illegitimate. Seriously--you can't make asinine claims like that and expect to remain a legitimate form of government. If I were working for the State or a neighboring local government, I'd give Schenectady a few weeks to come to their senses and then pull the plug. No more funding, no more cooperation, no nothing. Treat them like a rogue state. It's harsh but necessary. No one should have to stand for government gone haywire.

      • by Unequivocal (155957) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:34AM (#30086466)

        True, but they can copyright the format and indexes to the content. WestLaw has been doing this for years with the Federal Case law and making a killing. Recently open indexes of Federal Case law have been taken more seriously and many judges accept both WestLaw index citation and the open format. But for a while WestLaw effectively owned the Federal Case statutes b/c they copyrighted their index of them, and you could only file in Federal court by using that index scheme.

        So there are ways to use copyright to lock down what should be public record, and this company may be using such a strategy to charge $200 for their version of the content.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dapyx (665882)
        Federal laws, like all federal works, are public domain.

        Works made by the state and city-level government are, however, copyrighted.
    • Poverty now becomes the ultimate trump card! This should change prison demographics a little.

    • by Rary (566291)

      Information is not copyrightable. A particular presentation of information is copyrightable.

      They are not saying you can't learn the law for free. They are saying you can't have this particular presentation of the law for free.

      Also, according to TFA, this is only a temporary situation while they work on getting the full law posted online for free. They're just trying to recover some of the $20,000 it's costing them to do this.

      • That doesn't make charging to know the law legitimate.

        • by Rary (566291) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:37AM (#30086518)

          That doesn't make charging to know the law legitimate.

          The point is that they're not charging to know the law. According to TFA, you can read the law "at the Schenectady Public Library, Schenectady County Supreme Court Library, the Schenectady County Community College Library and several other locations". And as of next year you'll be able to read and search the law online for free. In the meantime, if you want a copy to take home, you have to pay for it.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            That would be the point under which most of the comments crying foul are being made... somebody moderate the parent either Informative or Insightful...

            If they were making the law unavailable to those who can't spend the $200, then there would be a problem. Anything the government creates, including laws, is in the public domain. (this being Slashdot, it's worth mentionning that this is why the BSD and MIT licenses for software exist... they were originally created to cover software that was created with gov

          • Mod Parent Up (Score:3, Informative)

            by Pollux (102520)

            Completely agree. I was first frustrated and upset with what I read, because we the people cannot permit government to hide our laws from us. That's exactly what the summary implied. But when I RTFA, I read exactly what the parent said...the laws are available for reading at THE PUBLIC LIBRARY, as they should be.

            The guy can just go to the library, research things the old-fashioned way, pay for making photocopies, and wait for this company to finish the project they were contracted to do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by moranar (632206)

      What part of '[the laws will] be made available on the Web for free" didn't you understand?

      I assume the normal means of studying the laws of Schenectady are still available.

      • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Friday November 13, 2009 @11:30AM (#30087176) Homepage

        What part of '[the laws will] be made available on the Web for free" didn't you understand?

        This part:

        At the request of staffers at City Hall, Eiss filled out a form, which he later learned was a formal request for records access under New York's Freedom of Information Law. A week later, he received a response saying his request was denied.

        The reason: "Materials requested are protected by copyright and release of materials is through exclusive license only."

        Where, you know, the laws are _not_ being made available to mere citizens.

        That's why the city has contracted with a national company called General Code for about $20,000 to create a comprehensive, searchable electronic version of the code that eventually will be posted on the Web and available to all.

        City employees have access to the current electronic version through General Code, but "that is strictly proprietary and copyrighted," Van Norden said. "They own the electronic code and we use it under an electronic licensing agreement."

        In case "reading the excerpts from the article" is still too long, let me sum it up for you: When asked for a copy of the City code, L. John Van Norden, acting on behalf of the City of Schenectady, informed Arthur Eiss that he not only couldn't have it, but that he was not even allowed to access the same copy which City employees use. The fact that the company which has created this problem promised to eventually make a publicly available version doesn't help anyone right now.

        Now that there are a few more details, is that part easier to understand?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by moranar (632206)

          Oh, cool. Then I guess you missed where they noted that

          But Eiss also indicated he might find it sufficient to review a paper copy of the code, as needed, at a library.

          White said copies of the code, with updates early this year, are on file at the Schenectady Public Library, Schenectady County Supreme Court Library, the Schenectady County Community College Library and several other locations.

    • by westlake (615356)

      I wonder how the 'ignorance of the law is no excuse' standpoint would be upheld given that you may not be economically able to know the laws...

      You could of course go to city hall or the public library.

      Sit down and read a book.

      There was a world of text before the computer, after all.

  • WE THE PEOPLE..... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by commodore64_love (1445365) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:04AM (#30086114) Journal

    ..no longer own our government. Time for that city's citizens to fire all the politicians (hopefully peacefully not by force), and rebuild the government from scratch

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NevarMore (248971)

      Lets hope for just a little force. Scare the rest of them back in line.

    • I'm waiting until the Declaration of Independence is banned as 'propaganda'.

      That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bitslinger_42 (598584)
        Sure, but what do we replace it with? We know that monarchy-type governments lead to tyranny, and the U.S. of A. is an existence proof of what happens when you elect people who determine the rules under which they operate, not to mention vote on their own salaries. What else is there?
    • by moranar (632206)

      The parent should be modded -1 Stupid.

      As they say: "Get a brain, morans!"

    • by nomadic (141991)
      ..no longer own our government. Time for that city's citizens to fire all the politicians (hopefully peacefully not by force), and rebuild the government from scratch

      Yes, how DARE the city make their laws available for free on the internet?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      "Time for that city's citizens to fire all the politicians (hopefully peacefully not by force), and rebuild the government from scratch"

      Fuck it. Kill em all and burn their children.

      The Revolutionary War never ended... We're still fighting the same problem.

  • by liquiddark (719647) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:04AM (#30086122)
    Ignorance of law is not a defense in a court of law, yet people are subject to laws they cannot read in detail. Doesn't seem very nuanced. It seems a very straightforward violation of basic principles of civics.
    • "Ignorance of the law is no defense" made sense when the law closely resembled the common set of morals and ethics shared by 99% of society. Clearly that is no longer the case, and I wonder how long it will be before, at least in some cases, ignorance of a law that reasonably couldn't have been known or understood ahead of time does become a valid defense.
      • "Ignorance of the law is no defense" made sense when the law closely resembled the common set of morals and ethics shared by 99% of society. Clearly that is no longer the case, and I wonder how long it will be before, at least in some cases, ignorance of a law that reasonably couldn't have been known or understood ahead of time does become a valid defense.

        Agreed, but there are a few problems with what you're saying.

        (1) The organized people with guns don't care whether or not you think ignorance a valid defense.

        (2) The rest of us can't be bothered o fix (1). (And by "fix", I don't mean armed revolution. I mean vote into office legislators and executives who will insist on a civicly virtuous set of laws and lawmaking processes.)

      • Ignorance of the law is an excuse if you can show you made an effort to abide by the rules - like hiring a professional in the field of law to make the right decision. At least that's how it works in civil areas, such as tax/finance law. As far as my experience goes, in criminal law "ignorance of the law is no excuse" prosecution is applied in the morally clear areas you describe, where a reasonable person would know the law, but you claim you didn't, so you still get prosecuted. For complex arcana, my expe

    • by Cyner (267154)

      Agreed; a public law should be made available to the public without reservation or hinderance. If they want to charge for a CD version of the laws that's fine, as long as there's a free copy somewhere. Perhaps they could give CDs to the local libraries, problem solved.

    • by Rary (566291)

      Ignorance of law is not a defense in a court of law, yet people are subject to laws they cannot read in detail. Doesn't seem very nuanced. It seems a very straightforward violation of basic principles of civics.

      They can read it in detail in paper form. They just can't have it on CD for free, and soon they'll have searchable online access for free.

      Charging $200 for the CD isn't ideal, but nobody is hiding the laws from people.

    • Ignorance of law is not a defense in a court of law, yet people are subject to laws they cannot read in detail. Doesn't seem very nuanced. It seems a very straightforward violation of basic principles of civics.

      Unfortunately, fundamental injustices in the legal system are not seen by courts as valid justification for avoiding punishment.

      I think copyrighted laws are unjust, in similar measure, to:

      • Legal proceedings that are so expensive that merely defending oneself can cause bankruptcy, even when innocent.
      • Being bound by laws that even the lawmakers didn't read, or that were bought with bribes / campaign contributions.
  • First off, since these are state and local laws, the objection that "government works are in the public domain" doesn't apply, as that objection is only valid for federal works.

    However, there are several cases that deal with the question of whether private codes (e.g. building codes, safety codes, etc.) that a local government pays for can remain copyrighted once they are enacted into law. Veeck v. Southern Bldg Code, Building Officials & Code Administrators Int'l v. Code Technology, Inc. There are othe

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      First off, since these are state and local laws, the objection that "government works are in the public domain" doesn't apply, as that objection is only valid for federal works.

      I don't know where people get the idea that "the government" equals only the Federal government. Your state and city have governments, too.

      I hear it all the time in the bar I go to when people bitch about "the government", blaming Obama and Durbin etc for stupid state laws and city ordinances that the feds don't have anything to do w

  • Ignorance of the law is no excuse... So how's that explanation going to work if you have to buy the laws? I'm in jail because I couldn't afford to buy the $200 rule book.

    Sounds like pauper's prison to me.

    • by frdmfghtr (603968)

      Buying laws...seems like that practice has been going on for years...

    • Sounds like pauper's prison to me.

      The wealthy need to harvest organs from somewhere. It's all legal, of course, just check the applicable laws. Won't somebody please think of the rich and privileged?

  • A simple solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dyfet (154716) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:10AM (#30086160) Homepage

    Any law which does not offer universal access to those claimed to be subject to it should not have universal jurisdiction over said population. A very simple quid pro quo. If you have to pay to know the law, it only can be applied to those who paid :).

  • by Teese (89081) <beezel@@@gmail...com> on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:12AM (#30086196)
    Aren't works for hire generally owned by whoever is paying... City pays contractor for work, city owns the work, not the contractor.
  • Outrageous (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:13AM (#30086214) Homepage Journal

    As I was reading TFA there was another thing I saw that outraiged me besides the ludicrous copyrighting of laws.

    Eiss dropped by City Hall a couple of weeks ago and asked for a copy of the city code, a two-part document that includes the City Charter and the administrative code, a full set of local ordinances governing everything from building inspections to waste disposal.

    Because it's voluminous -- the paper version fills two thick, black, 3-ring binders, says Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden -- Eiss asked for it in electronic format, probably a disk.

    Why does a city's laws and codes have to be two fat binders? Perhaps I'm making a wrong assumption (or just have my head up my ass; I'm on my first cup of coffee this morning), but a thick binder where I work is about four inches thick.

    Why so many codes and regulations? And not only does one have to obey these laws, but there are the state and Federal laws you have to abide by as well.

    How the hell is anyone supposed to avoid being a criminal when there are books and books of laws one has to obey?

    I'd like to see a new federal law that says all laws, codes, and ordinances expire after a period of ten years, after which time lawmakers can re-enact those laws if they deem necessary. We have WAY too many laws.

    And I'd like to see the next copyright revision state plainly and emphatically that no government can copyright anything whatever.

    Someone please violate this city's bogus copyright and get the laws on the internet. And publically shame the city and its leaders for their insanity. I know if I lived in Schenectady I'd be voting against the incumbants (of course, I usually do here anyway).

    • The trouble with that law is that it would likely only apply to laws created after itself, and logically it'd be the first law to expire after 10 years. At it's first review it would have had no effect, and thus be unneeded, so removed. Thus never apply to any other law. So it'd be pretty pointless.
    • Re:Outrageous (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:31AM (#30086426) Journal
      I don't doubt that there are a fair few superfluous laws on the books(in that city, and generally), and that unnecessary complexity is a major vice; but I suspect that most of the actual thickness is contributed by things like building codes.

      Even in a hypothetical libertarian utopia where the state handles nothing but defense and the bare outlines of criminal law, you are going to end up with some very lengthy laws, either directly or by reference. For instance, "due process" is pithy; but what it actually means, once you get to the level of court procedure, access to lawyers, details of how one can/cannot be detained and under what circumstances, etc, etc. would be hard to encapsulate in under book length. You could keep the law code itself short by simply refusing to go into detail and handwaving, or by referring to outside codes of practice; but that doesn't really help. If you do the first, you don't really have a rule of law at all. If you do the second, you simply have a very long code of laws that is split up among numerous documents, with your actual "law code" serving as little more than an index.

      Once you get into the realm of things like building codes, which are necessarily pretty technical, this problem just becomes greater.

      This is not to say that complexity is good(it isn't, one should always strive for Einstein's "simple as possible; but no simpler"); but it does mean that you have to be careful to distinguish between unnecessary and invidious complexity, and necessary complexity. It's like the use of technical jargon. People complain, often rightly, that it is used to confuse and intimidate laymen and keep them from questioning experts; but there are plenty of things that are simply complex and cannot be usefully simplified without distortion.
      • Re:Outrageous (Score:4, Interesting)

        by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv,vadiv&neverbox,com> on Friday November 13, 2009 @01:50PM (#30088970) Homepage

        What I say is that laws should be strictly hierarchical.

        You should be able to look up what you want to do, and be able to read maybe 50 laws about that topic, and know factually that no other law can be relevant.

        For example, look up 'Public property', then 'Not in a vehicle', then 'Not deliberately interacting with others', and find out what the laws on loitering or whatever are, and know that no other laws can actually apply.

        That's not the best example, and those categories are dumb, but the point is, while the law is roughly hierarchical, it's not hierarchical by law, and hence some random law you've never heard of can cover the situation you're in, even if you went and looked that situation up in the actual place you should have.

        I.e., legally speaking, you have to read the entire law to know if you can do anything at all, which is idiotic and, frankly, unconstitutional.

        All laws, at all government levels, should be required to be posted in a way that lets you 'drill down' to the area of any actions you might be considering, and read all laws that vaguely cover it. Maybe allowing 100 'laws' total at the ultimate level. Each category clearly explaining what other categories and laws are under it.

        If you can demonstrate that you looked up your behavior where a reasonable person would, and the law you're being charged with wasn't there, said charge should be thrown out, and the legislature should be informed that law won't be enforced until it gets placed in the correct place.

        The same law, could, of course, end up in multiple places, which means we shouldn't use this system to enumerate the laws. We could keep using the existing system, only have one copy of each law, but require a useful index.

        (If I thought it was vaguely possible, I'd instead suggest having each law 'tagged with keywords', which would be a better way to do this.)

    • by Rary (566291)

      Someone please violate this city's bogus copyright and get the laws on the internet.

      That's exactly what they're currently working on doing. And it's not the laws that are copyrighted, it's one particular electronic presentation of those laws. The laws are still available for free at the public library, among other places.

    • Lots of laws (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sjbe (173966)

      Why so many codes and regulations?

      The short answer is that the society we live in is very complicated. The basic principles are pretty simple but hammering out the details requires a lot of lawmaking. These laws cover the corner cases of how we are to interact with each other. Turns out the best (and probably only) way to do that anyone has come up with is to have a lot of laws. This is better than the alternative which is basically monarchy. Better to have the rules spelled out (even if complicated) than to depend on the capricious wh

  • Sounds like this particular set of laws now only applies to people who have purchased them for $200.

  • If I publish a book in CD form, I don't create a new, copyrightable work. I might have the copyright on the software reader, but the work itself belongs to the original author (presumably the city council, and normally public domain), not the transcriber. They might require you purchase their $200 reader, and give you the law text for free. They could also charge you a "convenience fee" for delivering the content in a mroe useful form, provided they are licensed to do so (which would be the case for a publi

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:15AM (#30086238)

    Do people on a jury have to pay $200 as well? As it can be real hard to be on a jury and not know the law.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Alan426 (962302)
      Juries are triers of fact, not of law. Jurors are not supposed to interpret the law as they see fit -- they follow the instructions given them by the judge. This is why lawyers make lousy jurors. IANAL but I play one on TV
    • by TimHunter (174406)
      Nobody expects jurors to know the law. Before the jury starts deliberating, the judge explains the law and how the jury is supposed to assess the evidence and testimony according to the law. This is called "instructing the jury." Typically the judge and the lawyers for each side work out the exact wording of the instruction so that it's fair to both sides. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_instructions [wikipedia.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Do people on a jury have to pay $200 as well? As it can be real hard to be on a jury and not know the law.

      I've been selected for Jury duty, and in the written material it said that the Judge would tell us what the law is, and that was the law, not what we knew. It's because the Judge is supposed to interpret the law. The jury is only supposed to determine the facts. i.e. The jury determines that Bob killed Joe. It's up the the judge to say it's illegal for Bob to kill Joe and what the parameters of punishment might be. In some states the Judge then determines the sentence, in others, the jury picks a sen

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bill_mcgonigle (4333) *

        I've been selected for Jury duty, and in the written material it said that the Judge would tell us what the law is, and that was the law, not what we knew. It's because the Judge is supposed to interpret the law. The jury is only supposed to determine the facts. i.e. The jury determines that Bob killed Joe. It's up the the judge to say it's illegal for Bob to kill Joe and what the parameters of punishment might be. In some states the Judge then determines the sentence, in others, the jury picks a sentence

  • Summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MarkvW (1037596) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:20AM (#30086292)

    TFA reports that the code is available in multiple public locations. The citizen can make copies of the ordinances from those sources.

    That the city code is a twisted mess is no big surprise. A lot of municipalities have that problem.

    The assertion of copyright is stupid, just stupid. The morons will soon realize that they have to retreat from that lunatic undemocratic position or they will be sued under New York's FOIA.

    • The citizen can make copies of the ordinances from those sources.

      Yeah sure. At ten cents a page.

      Also seen previously [slashdot.org], a guy in California scanned thousands of pages of law and put them online for free after CA tried to copyright their laws. The story was from '08, so I'm not sure what the resolution was (or if there's even been one).

  • by rotide (1015173) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:23AM (#30086350)

    Or should I say is pretty much dead.

    Old resident here (I lived in Rotterdam, a town in Schenectady).

    Schenectady was a booming place many years ago (~30) due to ALCO (American Locomotive) and GE (General Electric) being major companies that not only paid a lot in taxes but also brought other businesses to the area.

    Downtown Schenectady, while small, was always alive with shops, stores, etc. Heck, my favorite as a child was a small two story hardware store that had one of those old school ceiling mounted "trolly" systems for moving orders/payments around the building. It was fun as a child to watch it zoom around.

    Not anymore however. Schenectady decided it would be a great idea to raise taxes and grab more cash. GE and I'm assuming ALCO (can't remember when they pulled out) both decided taxes were too high and they pulled most of their operations out of Schenectady. This has pretty much killed the local economy as all the other small businesses that relied on the employee (residents and commuters) patronage have closed up shop. Schenectady shot itself in the foot really bad.

    The article seems to state this is a temporary situation as they are paying $20k to get this on the web for everyone (assuming for free). But at first glance it looked like a misguided cash grab. Maybe it is, I'm not sure. Will be interesting to see how quickly they get a free version out there, if the web version does indeed end up being free. If not, *sigh*, Schenectady will be doing something stupid, again, to make a buck.

    • by mdm-adph (1030332)

      Makes sense. I drive through Schenectady on the way to Vermont every now and then to visit relatives -- all I remember is that everything looks like a dump.

  • No need to overreact (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 7-Vodka (195504) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:29AM (#30086400) Journal
    This isn't a big conspiracy. This is city government. If you've ever been to a small city governmental meeting you know that the proportion of complete idiots pontificating over each other is quite high.
    In this case the majority of people in the room when this was decided were that kind of people.

    Give it a little bit and their asses are gonna be toast in court and they're going to realize that they can't rule over the city folk like dictators. Unfortunately they will never realize the real magnitude of their stupidity.

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:34AM (#30086474)

    Here's what the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has said about Schenectady's brain-dead legal position:

    "For these reasons, we reject SBCCI's deconstruction of Banks into merely utilitarian and factual issues. Instead, we read Banks, Wheaton, and related cases consistently to enunciate the principle that "the law," whether it has its source in judicial opinions or statutes, ordinances or regulations, is not subject to federal copyright law."

    Veeck v. Southern Bldg. Code Congress Intern., Inc.
    293 F.3d 791
    C.A.5 (Tex.),2002

  • by nomadic (141991)
    This case is nuanced.

    Hey, whoah, slow down there chief. Remember what website you're posting on, we don't want to hear that.
  • As a good, law abiding citizen you need to keep abreast of any new laws that may affect you. So, presumably, you will be spending $200 every year just be sure that you ''don't do wrong''.

    What a way to squeeze money from a few people and make criminals of the rest of us.

  • Even King Hammurabi got it better than this. At least he ensured the laws were open to all [robweir.com].
  • Misleading Headline (Score:3, Informative)

    by deiol (741017) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:42AM (#30086622)

    The headline states that the laws are only available via a $200 license, but that is not the case. The laws currently exist in two forms, a paper version and an electronic version that is stored in a proprietary format. The paper copy is held in multiple 3-ring binders and would cost $656 to reproduce, and in order to read the proprietary electronic format you would need to license the software required for $200. No one ever said the laws themselves were copyrighted. They are also available to view for free in multiple public locations, "White said copies of the code, with updates early this year, are on file at the Schenectady Public Library, Schenectady County Supreme Court Library, the Schenectady County Community College Library and several other locations."

    So you can see that no one is preventing anyone from viewing the laws, the problem is if you want your own personal copy it just isn't financially feasible at this time. Luckily the city realizes this and they're working to get a copy of the code online, which will be accessible for free. It shouldn't be this difficult to view city laws electronically so searching is simpler, and this is a good example of why we shouldn't use proprietary formats. Although your content is owned by you, you're limited to what you can do with it because of the format it's in.

  • by SharpFang (651121) on Friday November 13, 2009 @10:44AM (#30086636) Homepage Journal

    Dear City Council of Schenectady

    I would like to recommend to you an interesting article.

    The subject is a result of my study "Location, timer settings and defusing codes of explosive devices located in various public buildings of the City of Schenectady".

    I'm convinced you would be very interested in the information contained therein. I am willing to sell you a copy of said article, but considering its literary and informational value, I estimate it to be worth $10mln.

    Simultaneously I would like to state I have no connection with manufacturers of these devices nor people who planted them. This is merely an scientific work of an informative study that should be of interest to all citizens of the city.

    Faithfully, yours, ...

  • by mea37 (1201159) on Friday November 13, 2009 @12:35PM (#30088004)

    The headline and TFS both state that the code is only available to citizens for a $200 license. This is not true. RTFA.

    This is a case of a company trying to weasle a buck and a city government not thinking through the options that might best serve a citizen. There was a fair amount of stupidity involved in the manner of refusing the FOI request, but that's about it.

    The law is available for anyone to review - just not to take home their own copy without considerable expense. It will be available online for free in the near future, and where this guy ran into trouble is he specifically asked for a more convenient form of the information than the city is presently in a position to provide without more creativity than they exercise by defualt.

    Bottom line - the city officials should get better educated, and it sounds like they're doing just that as they consider options to fill this request; in other words, business as usual, nothing to see here.

  • naunced? BS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sohp (22984) <snewton&io,com> on Friday November 13, 2009 @01:57PM (#30089098) Homepage

    This case is NOT nuanced. Only the lawyers for the company that stands to make a buck want folks to think that. Did the printing company that, in olden days, typeset, print, and bind the laws in paper copies expect to profit from an exclusive license? No, they expected to get paid to do the printing and hand over the copies to the government. Possibly they could print up additional copies and sell them but they didn't expect to have any rights to the content.

  • The Oregon situation (Score:3, Informative)

    by Baloo Uriza (1582831) <baloo@ursamundi.org> on Friday November 13, 2009 @02:31PM (#30089650) Journal
    The Oregon situation isn't this eggregious. Oregon does not charge for access to the state laws, in fact, the state has had them online for years [state.or.us], persuant to the Oregon Sunshine Act of 1973 [state.or.us]
  • Building Codes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jthayden (811997) on Friday November 13, 2009 @05:46PM (#30092250)
    Anyone know the rule on building codes for this? My town has adopted a version of the International Building Codes. I've found places to buy it online, but no free version. It seems ludicrous to me that I have to pay money to find out how to follow the codes.
  • by cpghost (719344) on Friday November 13, 2009 @06:53PM (#30092908) Homepage
    There's an official place where laws are being published and displayed, and there are unofficial services that duplicate those laws, so it is more convenient to check them out. The official place could be something like a well defined place in your city hall.... or in the basement of the local planning department on Alpha Centauri:

    There's no point acting all surprised about it. All the planning charts and demolition orders have been on display in your local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you've had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it's far too late to start making a fuss about it now.

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