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Censorship Your Rights Online

Is Law Copyrighted? 370

Guppy06 writes: "There's an interesting tidbit here at the San Diego Union-Tribune about a guy who posted his local (Denison, TX) building code on the internet and prompty got nasty-grams from copyright lawyers at the Southern Building Code Congress International Inc. The bill in question was copyrighted by the group before it was sent to the local legislature, so the wording of the law belongs to them. So far, two Federal courts agree with the group. In the article, they seem to be taking the Microsoft-esque view of 'Who would write these things for free? Look at all the good it's done!'" And since many laws are written wholly by groups composed of non-legislators (the article lists a few), disseminating them on the Internet is a misdeed?
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Is Law Copyrighted?

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  • by sahai ( 102 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @11:57AM (#225303) Homepage
    From the 14th Ammendment:

    All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property,
    without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    An odd world indeed where you deny some of the citizens (the ones who can't afford to pay a private organization that presumably can price its "product" however it wishes!) the right to view, share, and circulate the law among themselves. At the very least, non-commercial distribution with any changes clearly marked ought to be allowed if we want the citizenry to have "equal protection of the laws."
  • As opposed to what, profit-seeking socialists who sell their constituents out for a quick chunk of campaign cash every time they get a chance, then lie their asses off about it and claim it's all for the children?

    The problem is voters who think they can use the ballot box to elect themselves a free lunch and don't pay attention to what the weasels they elect are really doing. The pitch is "we're going to make the other guy pay your way," but guess who ends up paying? Everybody.

  • What you say would only make sense if the code was not a law. Once it becomes a law then the governing body is under obligation to make it as easy as possible for the public to read.

    Sure, ignorance of the law isn't supposed to be an excuse, but in this case ignorance of the law is being required by law. That just can't possibly be legal. I'm no lawyer, but this sounds fishy. I suspect we aren't getting all the facts here.

  • You are essentially arguing that it is right and good to require someone to PAY a PRIVATE company just to learn what the law is that he is being forced to live under.

    What's next? Will you have to pay Rand McNally to get a map to find out what all the speed limits are on the roads for your next car trip, because they won't be posted but you'll be required to obey them anyway?

  • The solution is simple, It shouldn't be legal in the first place to enact a law that is not allowed to be publicly viewed in ANY and ALL media (It's not enough to make me have to come down and see the paper version.) So, in the case of the Stephan King text, it shouldn't be legal for the law to be created in the first place unless the text is opened up by the current copyright holder. (Mr. King.)

    It should be standard procedure that only open material be in the text of a law. Period. If previously copyrighted material is to become law, then the original copyright owner must bless the change in "license" before that can happen.

    If the SBCCI wants to keep it's text closed, they have every right to, but doing so should prevent it from becoming a law. If they want it to be a law, then they have to open it first, as part of the public record (BEFORE it goes to a vote, as well, since the legistlature shouldn't be voting on things in secret where the public doesn't know what's being voted on.)

    At least, that would be the way the world worked if people were sane, and fair. Too bad we don't live in that world.

    What the hell is the complaint the SBCCI has with this anyway, I wonder? If they wanted to be the ones to draft the building codes, then they should be happy that they are being dissemated. That's what they're FOR!

  • If you wait until it becomes law for the text to enter the public domain, you've waited too long. The public MUST have the right to know what is being proposed and debated on WHILE it is still being debated, so they may take political action on the issue BEFORE it's already a done deal. If you disagree, then you aren't in favor of the concept of democracy.
  • One of the outfits mentioned in the article is the National Fire Protection Association which publishes the National Electrical Code. This is the basis of the electrical building codes in most ares. They publish a new one every 3 years with changes coming from their committees composed of electricians, engineers, inspectors, insurance company reps, etc. I think I have copies of the 1978 and 1987 NEC somewhere. It is chock full of niggling details. There's an online version at: me .html?E+necnonmembers

    I've heard many a story about people having to rip out work because it didn't meet code. Not all of it was obvious or intuitive. These folks either learned what to do to comply or the hired someone who did.

    If someone posts the NEC online, I'll bet the NFPA lawyers are on them like stink.

    Now, do we really want to remove this activity from the NFPA and put it in the state or federal congress? Most of them don't know their hole from a butt-in-the-ground about electrical work. The proceeds from the sale of the NEC funds the efforts to keep it current. If it's put up for free, do we fund it with tax dollars? Do you really want to go read all that shit anyway? I mean, the only people who need the NEC are people who are building something.

  • by Danse ( 1026 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @10:17PM (#225310)

    Do they have to allow you to photocopy it, or do you have to copy it by hand? I'm thinking that before photocopiers existed, people must have done it some other way, so who decides when it's time to mandate that a newer technology be used to facilitate more convenient access to the law for the public?

  • I guess I'm getting a little off the point; my point is perhaps sometimes government has a right to limit access to their very expensive R&D at times.

    Every government I know of is solely funded by the governed. In the U.S., the people own the government (at least in theory, in fact it seems the other way around sometimes). So you believe that a contractor (government) has a right to withold it's work for hire (expensive R&D) from those who hired it (the people) even though they paid for it(taxes)?

  • by jedidiah ( 1196 )
    Without full disclosure, your comments are meaningless. There is quite a large audience for law manuals and legal textbooks. Lawyers aren't quite so rare as you would have us believe. So, one has to seriously wonder just what costs are actually involved here. Without real details, we have no way of knowing whether or not this is just a market where publishers think they can take advantage of their victms ( customers). People expect that Lawyers will have the money to pay. That's all there is to it.
  • The acutal case is
    Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress Int'l [], 241 F.3d 398 (5th Cir. 2001). (Link is to Findlaw version.)
    And, of course, at the bottom of this web page, there is the note "Copyright © 1994-2001 FindLaw". This isn't just standard boiler plate for a web page, companies like FindLaw [] and Westlaw [] claim copyrights over much of the American case law.

    Well, they don't own the copyright to the actual case law, but they have contracts to be the sole publisher for court documents. They then intermix the public domain case law with their own works so that it is extremely hard to seperate their copyrighted additions from the rest. You want to practice law? You will end up paying yearly fees to these companies. The courts see this as a big plus because they don't have to publish this stuff themselves and no tax dollars are spent.

  • by Chas ( 5144 )


    I 'effing love it!

    Laws that nobody can read because the exact wording of them is copyrighted.

    What jackass came up with this idiotic notion?

    The public law HAS to be available for public consumption by ANY means. Otherwise you're stifling all discourse over the issues covered in the law!

    Ye BOB! Just when I thought it couldn't get any dumber in this country!

    Chas - The one, the only.
    THANK GOD!!!

  • Something either is, or is not, perfect. The Constitution may be, however, the most nearly perfect framework...

    The DMCA and the Bono act could still wind up before the Supreme Court many different times, with different plantiffs and lawyers making different arguments, so the future of neither law is certain. In the meantime, check the Constitution for the legal definition of treason, and lighten up a bit. The Constitution gives us a means to work against laws with which we disagree without having to go to the extreme of taking up arms and replacing the government.

  • Actually these codes *are* updated on a regular basis, not to maintain a revenue stream, but to incorporate lessons learned (aluminum wiring being one good example) and to accomodate new technologies.

    The National Fire Protection Association, for example, revises the National Electrical Code every 3 years.

    The NFPA is a non-profit started years ago by insurance companies. (If nothing ever happens to you that an insurance company has to pay out on, count your blessings. You may have been saved by rules and laws designed to both protect you from harm and the insurance companies from loss. No matter how you feel about insurance companies, it's better if you don't get hurt.)

    Local governments can incorporate some or all of the NEC into local building codes, but nobody's forcing them to. However it's probably good that they do. Imagine trying to manufacture products or write insurance policies if every community wrote their own codes with no consideration given to anybody else's. Imagine the cost to every community to create and maintain their own at a professional enough level to keep from being sued by half of the citizens.

  • The Twilight Zone episode has the same plot (and punchline)as the short story because it's based on that same story.
  • You would think that if your friendly Town Hall was going to hire someone to write their laws, they would AT LEAST insist that the resulting document belong to the City, and not to the legal firm.

    If it's copyrighted, there are probably terms of use - I'd like to see what those are...

    "Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?"
  • You can complain about something, without quoting it wholsale. And furthermore, as has been said several times, the reason that it was found to be a violation in this case, was that the law was readily available.

    So either the law is readily available, and in your protest documents, you can refer people to it's sources. And quote appropriate passages, as needed as well.

    Or it's not going to be readily available for people to read, and you can quote it wholesale in your screed.
  • They were published. And for a quite reasonable fee, to cover both the distribution, and the original creation of the document, ANYONE had complete access to them.
  • When the book in question, is printed in a fairly limited run, the per copy price goes up. And I'm sure, that a building codes book doesn't exactly burn up the bestseller list.

    Further, the non-profit had to pay experts to create the document in question. And that's a VERY significant expense as well.
  • Once again, the editors, and the mass of users of /. are rising up to protest a law, and an organization, just because they are restricting in some small incredibly insignificant way, the flow of information.

    The government in this case chose to let an experienced, knowlegable group generate laws, that frankly the lawmakers are incredibly ill suited to have created themselves. Then, rather than paying a large sum of cash up front and throwing the rules out into the public domain, they allowed the writers to retain copyright, so they could earn something for their work by selling copies.

    At no time, did the government hide these laws. The information was readily available through governemnt offices, and at local libraries. Anyone that needed to see them, could. Anyone that felt they needed a copy, had every right to purchase a copy for a reasonable fee. Nobody was ever being compelled to follow directives that they were not allowed to know.

    Based on reading how the court found in this case, and interpreting fair use laws, anyone that wanted to protest these laws, almost certainly wouldn't have been denied the ability to quote appropriately from them. The court just said that they couldn't be copied wholesale, in violation of the copyright law.

    The hypocrisy? Once again, slashdot, and the bulk of it's community, are foaming at the mouth over copyright law. The same people that would scream bloody murder if someone ignored the GPL, and created a forked Linux, using proprietary, non-disclosed modifications. The same laws, that say that Linux, and all derivative works must remain open source, protects "closed source" material like these building codes from being freely distributed.

    If you expect copyright laws to protect the GPL, you should allow others the same protection for their works. And that means that they are allowed to choose how open to make their IP. Just like some have chosen to release under the GPL, others have not.
  • Just pop on down to the library, and the poorest among us can read them for free.
  • was this made more difficult than necessary? Anyone that had any interest in the rules had every opportunity to read them. At no time did anyone involved say that these were secret rules, that only the priveleged few could have access to.

    I fail to see how this case is serving to undermine any kind of order.

    And just because there is a process for the state to exercise imminent domain, doesn't mean that they should exercise it at every opportunity. A power like that need be used sparingly, if at all. Or else the govenment devolves into a complete tyranny. Nobody is served by a government that capriciously takes whatever it wants from whoever it wants at will.
  • Yes, I do think the government should outsource law-making.

    I certainly don't want the average politician deciding building code standards. Would you want to live in a house architected by George Jr, or Al, or Bill Clinton?

    And no mistake was made at all. If you make it so that an organization like this can't make moeny off it's intellectual property, then the government would be forced to hire this organization, or one like it, to create the same documentation. And everyone in the jurisdiction would be paying up front for something that they don't necessarily need.

    Personally, I wouldn't willingly pay an extra dollar in taxes, just to have this be a public domain document. I'm not building anything, and if I was, the $300 is a normal cost of business.
  • And in the process, since the government didn't have to pay up front for the complete rights to the document, they weren't forced to squeeze the population at large for the money to pay.

    It's nice that you started dragging out all these hypothesis, about what if they made it harder... but they didn't. The information was available.

    I'm not selling my soul to capitalism at all. I'm merely supporting the decision to outsource for an extremely reasonable fee, a function that the govenrnment wasn't really qualified to perform anyhow.
  • by unicorn ( 8060 ) on Monday May 14, 2001 @07:41AM (#225336)
    "goverment should not be allowed to pass into law a text which is copyrighted by a private entity"

    Why not? In this particular case, the government in question chose to allow a third party to generate the law for them. I would say that the only valid thing to object to in this case, is the elected officials letting someone else do their work for them. And I'm not sure that's even a valid complain. Governments have always needed outside experts to help with the governing. I'm not sure that I want my local elected officials writing the building codes. The average politician isn't really qualified.

    "if a government does pass the text into law, quoting the law publicly, on line, should not be construed as infringement."

    Again, this goes to fair use. He didn't "quote" the law. He copied it wholesale onto the web.

    "citizens should not have to pay money to obtain a copy of a law they are obligated to follow"

    They are/were not obligated to pay at all. The information is available for free, via libraries and at the appropriate government offices.
  • by unicorn ( 8060 ) on Monday May 14, 2001 @07:50AM (#225337)
    They were freely available. At any time, you could go to a library, or other govenment offices, and read away. Made photocopies for your own use, etc.

    If you really want someone to complain to, complain about the local lawmakers in this case. When they passed these laws, they should have arranged the rights to go over to the local government, for an appropriate fee of course. Then they could have been freely available, as widely as anyone could want. Of course, the organization that generated the documents, would have needed to be paid for their work, just like any other subject matter expert that the governemtn might contract with. So the community at large, would pay increased taxes, so that a small group of people (building contractors) wouldn't have to pay individually to read the laws. I'm not sure that I want my taxes going up, for a purpose like this.
  • by mattkime ( 8466 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @12:00PM (#225338)
    So, who wants to find a way to take this to the Supreme Court?

    It just does not make sense that someone could own the law. The implications of this do nothing but place unreasonable restrictions on the individual. I think it is reasonable to pay $300 for a book on building codes, but one should have other options. This creates a definite financial gain to be made by getting your text made into law. Imagine if Microsoft's End User Agreement became the standard software liscense. It would be concievable that MS could profit off of every piece of commercial software sold.

    Additionally, by allowing law to be copyrighted, it restricts discussion of law. If I want to put up a website critical of the building codes and need direct, verbatim quotes, I sure as hell won't get permission to use the building codes directly.

    What about laws released under usage liscenses? Could one own the usage liscense while making the law public domain? Does the GPL need to be GPL'ed? :)

    True, making all government laws may reduce the amount of money laywers are making off of them. Damn...I'm trying to be sympathetic, but I just can't get there!
  • Sorry, the problem of access to what the laws say is a problem as old as the Romans: the plebians constantly were in agitation over the fact that -- until the Middle Republic, the laws were not written down, & unless you knew the proper legal formulas, one could not legally sell or buy real property or chattel, sue for injuries, defend oneself form lawsuits & all that other good stuff.

    So who knew what the law was for all of this? They were the patrician class, also known as the ruling class.

    Another example is land law in the UK. Until the 19th century, British law required a landowner to prove title back to the days of the Norman Conquest -- simply to provide work for solicitors, who made their living researching titles & keeping copies of medieval deeds.

    If I knew Continental Eurpoean history bette,r I could probably cite a few examples from there, also.

    Knowledge of the law was a privilege that the ruling classes have fought to keep ahold of. And one reason why a degree in law has been an advantage in promoting oneself into the upper middle class, at minimum.

  • So Republicans and Democratics can charge for copies of laws they pass and use that for campaigning?

    "Man könnte froh sein, wenn die Luft so rein wäre wie das Bier"
  • This case isn't about ignorance of the law.

    According to the Fifth Circuit, Vreeck (the acccused copyright infringer) could have gone down to the department of public works during business hours and asked to see the code. Or he could have gone to the local library and look at the book there.

    I think this case is a lot more important (and complex) than some /. comments seem to indicate. Specifically, the courts need to ask themselves, does the ready availability of access to information raise the bar of due process?

    The oft-quoted John Perry Barlow phrase, "Information wants to be free" should be restated for the courts: "Does due process require this information to be freely, instantly available?"
  • What if your city office had a webserver? [etc.]

    I think you're missing the Fifth Circuit's point. The Constitution requires "due process of law". "Due process requires that the public have notice of what the law is so that the people may comply with its mandates." (From Vreeck decision.)

    According to the Fifth Circuit, "due process" access to the building code requires, at a minimum , avaiability "for inspection and copying at the city offices in towns where they have been adopted".

    So, if the laws weren't available for inspection, then there would be violation of constitutional rights.

    Anything above and beyond the constitutionally required "minimum", however, is gravy. Domated webservers, etc. would certainly aid in dissemination, and presumably the city would be free to enter into whatever licensing agreements it desired. While it would further disseminate the law, it's not required by the Constitution, at least according to the Fifth Circuit.

    I think what's important is where we set the minimum bar for due process -- and whether we recognize whether technological advancements can raise that bar.

    This is not legal advice. If you need specific legal advice, consult with a lawyer, and not /.
  • As with many issues raised by this thread, I think the answer lies in the text of the Fifth Circuit's decision. The crux of the case, I maintain, is the due process argument.

    If a model code author restricted the terms under which it published the code such that citizens could not easily obtain copies or learn their content, then due process would be violated, even though the author would be acting within the scope of its rights as a copyright holder. Due process requires that citizens have access to the laws.

    Again, I'll ask: Does due process require citizens to have free, instant, online access to the laws, or is physical access at City Hall or the library enough? I think that's the question really posed by this case.

    Additionally, the Fifth Circuit explicitly rejected Veeck's argument of copyright misuse; the court said that Veeck presented no evidence of misuse. (Some /. readers might claim that filing of an infringement suit is misuse, I suppose.)

    Finally, I'll address the earlier post in this thread [] that mentioned me by name.

    When I referred to the "market for the work", I was addressing the copyright issue -- directed at the comment, "Making it available for public reference sure seems like a fair use of the text of legislation to me."

    My comments regarding the market for the work were meant to parallel the Fifth Circuit's decision, which stated, "Veeck's posting of the codes on the Internet could prove harmful by reducing SBCCI's market and depriving it of income used in its socially valuable effort of confecting, promulgating, and revising model codes." The market is not for the law itself, but for SBCCI's book / disk.

    Law publishing is an extremely lucrative business. Just ask Lexis or Westlaw...
  • Okay, I think we must be on completely different wavelengths because when you start talking about a market in what the law that bind you says you sound insane.

    I'm not insane -- we're just operating under different assumptions.

    I was talking only about fair use. One of the factors in determining fair use is "the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work". See 17 U.S.C. 107 [].

    In the Veeck [] decision, the Fifth Circuit found that SBCCI had a valid copyright in the text of the building code.

    I stated that there's no argument for fair use. SBCCI makes money by selling copies of the codes, so it's commercial use. Veeck took the entire work and put it on his website. Why pay SBCCI for a copy when you can get it online for free?

    Your argument that the market is eliminated by submitting the work to the legislature really goes to the constitutional (due process) issue, and not the copyright issue. You're assuming that the model code's adoption as the law makes the copyright unenforceable; the Fifth Circuit, whether rationally or not, rejected that argument.

    Thus, when considering the fair use argument, there's no difference between the model building code and the latest Stephen King novel. And so there's no fair use when you copy and republish the entire work.

    This is not legal advice. Go to a lawyer, not /., for legal advice.
  • The acutal case is Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress Int'l [], 241 F.3d 398 (5th Cir. 2001). (Link is to Findlaw version.)

    It's a 2-1 decision from the 5th Circuit. The due process part of the decision appears to turn on the fact that the panel felt that no one was being denied access to the text of the code itself. The Fifth Circuit panel stated that "due process requires at a minimum that the codes should be available for inspection and copying at the city offices in towns where they have been adopted". However, Veeck admitted that the codes were available during times when city officials were available. So, I guess we want to ask ourselves, is 24-hour, online access a part of due process? Before the Internet, how many people had such ready access to the text of laws?

    Also note that the Ninth Circuit has held that that the American Medical Association did not lose the right to enforce its copyright when use of its promulgated coding system was required by government regulations, and the Seocnd Circuit upheld the copyright of the "Red Book" projections of used car valuations...

    This is not legal advice. If you need specific legal advice, consult with a lawyer, and not /.
  • by RAruler ( 11862 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @12:43PM (#225353) Homepage
    You'd pay by credit card, so they not only know where you are, but how fast your going. This goes into a huge database, which helps the government track your whereabouts at all times, and helps to promote billboard ads.

    Don't worry, i'm sure theres a EULA on the road, that you accept by placing your vehicle on it. I mean, the EULA is in your best interest, the Government made the roads for you to drive on, they should atleast have the guarntee that you won't try to reverse-engineer the process of road making. Thats a strictly controlled process, and has strict regulations as defined by the Building Code Laws. But you wouldn't know that, as it can't be published freely.

  • I bet Valenti, et all are kicking themselves at this very moment for not thinking of this idea when they sent the DMCA to be rubber stamped by their bought congress and president...

    What makes you think they didn't think of it?

    DMCA says you may not unscramble "without authorization" (of the copyright owner, it is believed). Look at all of your DVDs. Do you see any hint that you have been authorized to unscrambled them (which is required for watching them)? Look in the manual for your licensed DVD player. See any hint that you've somehow been indirectly authorized to watch the movies? Nope. At best, you might find out that the manufacturer has made some kind of deal with DVDCCA. That's certainly not the same as you having a license from MPAA or the movie's copyright owner.

    Whenever you watch a CSS-protected movie, you don't have any way of knowing whether you are breaking the law or not. It doesn't matter whether you're using Xine or a licensed Sony player. And our representatives unanymously passed with law. Valenti is laughing his ass off.

  • Veal, the Southern Building Code Congress attorney, noted that three years ago the Office of Management and Budget directed all federal agencies to incorporate privately developed regulations "whenever practicable and appropriate" to cut the government's cost of developing its own standards.

    "The people who are involved in this case, on both sides, I think are people who are strongly interested in what's for the public good," Veal said.

    "It's just a matter of different people having different ideas of how the public should be served."

    Their lawyer's final statement seemed oddly familiar.

    Then I remembered -- "To Serve Man".

  • I'm extremely troubled by the recent 5th Court of Appeals decision (Veeck vs. S. Building Code Congress International Inc., No. 99-40632) that, in short, rules that the public does not own the law.

    The decision allows companies to enforce copyright to prevent free and unfettered dissemination of the law, if such companies have had a part in writing the law. (Which is a practice I find in many ways distasteful, and fear that it is becoming ever more rampant, as evidenced by the recent bankruptcy bill passed by the Senate.)

    This is evidently not an issue with which we can trust the courts. I am hoping that you side with the vast plurality of legal scholars who find this and the previous district court opinion appalling and incredible.

    As this nation moves into the information age, it is welcome and crucial that the apparatus of the United States government is available online-- from e-mail address of senators, to the text of the laws that govern the land, to the voting history of our representatives (which is, in fact, not readily available from any of my elected federal representatives).

    It is terrifying to think that the laws of this nation are controlled not by the nation but by private companies. From the San Diego Union-Tribune "Public laws owned by the public? Think again, copyright rulings show" Kathryn Balint, May 13, 2001

    "By its very nature, the law belongs to the public," said Malla Pollack, associate professor of law at Northern Illinois University. "For some reason, the U.S. courts do not seem to take seriously the public domain."

    "Every time I bring up this case to other academic professionals, they all say that such a ruling is impossible. But such a ruling happened."

    She thinks the case could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court because, she says, it raises fundamental issues about due process.

    The way things stand, Pollack said, citizens have no choice but to pay a private organization to get a copy of a law they're required to obey.

    "Basically, government is agreeing to allow a private party to make as much money as it can by picking its own price and selling copies of the law to people who need them." --- I sincerely hope that you, the New York delegation, the House Democrats, and all elected officials will stand against this affront to the public domain, and vile threat to our democracy.

    Don't let the Supreme Court decide this issue for our nation; take action.

    A constituent.


  • "It's all the same," Veal said. "They've done the creative work, and now someone says, 'I ought to be able to take it because it's there.' "

    Well, not quite. Napster or no napster, if I don't know the words to the latest N*Sync song, men with guns will not come to my house and take from me my inalienable rights. It's not that I should be able to take it because it's there, it's that I should be able to take it if I'm required by law to know it.

    It looks like a great deal for the organizations that write these things. They get to print these things and sell them without having to worry that they're not worth the price that's being asked. If the latest {insert your favorite band here} cd goes on sale, but they decide to sell it for $500 each, most people will decide not to buy it, because it's not worth it. In this case, people can't make that decision, because they have to buy it. In this particular case, people who build buildings have to buy it or go out of business.

    It's also a great deal for the governments that adopt these laws and codes. They get to levy a tax on everyone that doesn't show up on any budget.

    The only people it's not a great deal for are us. We just get screwed every 18 inches in compliance with a building code we have to pay an arm and a leg to see.

  • There is valueable research involved in these various codes. If these codes were not prepared in advance, governments would have to carry out expensive research to determine technical specifics to write into these codes. Multiply that cost (millions of dollars) by the huge number of jurisdictions (conservatively tens of thousands), and you end up with a tax expense in the high billions to possibly beyond a trillion dollars. Obviously that is not something that would be acceptable.

    If all the jurisdictions got together and pooled money proportionally and shared the costs of carrying out this research, obviously the costs would be way less. But this isn't what happened.

    Instead, there is a business model involved that fools taxpayers into thinking they are getting something for (nearly) free because the governments are not charged much (a few copies they have to buy) to adopt these codes. But the taxpayers actually are charged even more, overall, through commercial costs passed through from businesses that have to buy these overpriced copies. And that doesn't count the pricing people who want to express their 1st amendment rights to argue that flaws exist in proposed laws (the code).

    There are two parts to the cost. One part is the cost of copying to which I will add a reasonable profit margin for a copying operation. The other part is the distributed cost of the research, that is, the whole research cost divided by the number of sold copies. Beyond that is excess profits. How can we know if there are excess profits or not?

    Even the music industry is not this bad. While there is a "monopoly" on the ownership of a specific piece or performance of music, there is also a statutory rate [] for legally copying music which you can arrange to get a license [] for through the Harry Fox Agency [] (this applies to the composition, not a specific recording, and the rate is a bulk rate for mass production, not single copies).

    And unlike music, which I can elect to totally ignore or boycott, I cannot do the same for laws. So this is particularly bad.

    What we need is for some kind of statutory rate structure that allows others to make their own copies of the "composition work" involved in the code. The basic share cost of the original and continuing research still needs to be paid for, but without such a system, that is something that would be paid for directly by governments, anyway, in proportion to their applicable size, so IMHO that's where that part of the cost should be paid. This still allows governments to get quality research, and people to be able to have copies of what the law is at a fair and reasonable price for the copying, and prevents someone from extorting excess profits from the public because the public isn't given a choice either of who to buy copies from, or to opt-out of using the code.

  • OS folks, we are getting a little carried away with our model. As soon as the legislature writes the law it will enter the public domain. Meanwhile the lawyers have an incentive to draft either lobbyist inspired or scholarly inspired model laws. This is a good thing. It is as if the legislatures are the OS project managers for law. Now you have done it! You made me say something nice about legislatures and lawyers! But just because you have an OS hammer don't hit everything with it.
  • ... with the Halloween [] documents? Because they were copyrighted by Microsoft, he deliberately structured them as commentary (annotations). Given that governments usually release draft versions of bills for public commentary, I would say historical evidence is on their side. The only situation where it might be improper is if they misrepresent the source or deliberately alter the text. What I think people might object to is deliberately copyrighting a document with the intent of never releaseing it (ie using the legal protection as a tax-payer supported veil) or barrier to revision. In this case whistle-bblower or anti-competition legistlation might take precendence.

    The other approach is to treat the passed law as a fact. Sports commentary have established that a fact is common/public (though the database schema can be protected) and decomposing the document as a series of legal facts and rearranging hte order (sorted by relevance) might be another way around it.

    When the spirit of the law gets twisted by the letter, then it is time to start worrying about the system. A tyrancy of compelled behaviour (whether criminal case, civil code or ecnomic conduct) is no less for being promoted by a group than a dictator. Given that special interests are much more motivated to pass/support/write bad legistlation, it seems that greater transparency is needed, not less.

    Quid custodit ipsos custodes?


  • Nuff Said.

    These 'judges' should be forced to give their kickbacks to charity before they are fired and deported.
  • And because the DCMA makes it illegal to break a protection system, any part of this conversation about changing this copyrighted law is illegal.
  • "due process requires at a minimum that the codes should be available for inspection and copying at the city offices in towns where they have been adopted"

    What if your city office had a webserver?

    Could you donate a webserver to your city office?

    Could you take a cdrom burner to the city office?

    What about the Paperwork Reduction Act [] (read the goals)

    What about RMS coming up with a couple "GPL" laws... GNU/Building code, etc...

    I think there was also a similar case with westlaw owning all the law references.

  • by remande ( 31154 ) <remande@ b i g f o o t . com> on Sunday May 13, 2001 @06:58PM (#225374) Homepage
    Who can find Kafka's estate?

    Here's the plan. Find the actual holders of Kafka's copyrights on his works, then get them to hold a patent on screwing the government by copyrighting their laws (he shows prior art, no?). Then we can use Kafka's patent against the stupid law-copyright!

  • And what about the 65mph limits on I-94 in WI or the 70mph limits on I-65 in TN? IIRC, some states like TX have laws which state that you can go any speed on certain highways as long as there is no other traffic on the road during the day.
  • First, I appreciate your informative comments (and I don't hold you personally responsible for the irrational ways one area of the law fail to mesh with another).

    I have a question.

    Would the legislature have to get permission to copy the law to place it into the body of the law? Couldn't it be argued that in the absence of a formal license agreement, they are clearly implicitly granting to the state certain privileges necessary to the law becoming a law (being copied and circulated among legislators for example) and for the law to operate as a law (copies being made and circulated to courts, and deriviatve works to be made by amending the law)? And that, if this does not explicitly constitute outright abandonment, then certainly one of the rights that must be granted to the legislature is the right to publish the laws through third parties as it does its other laws?

    On the other hand, if is not the case that the legislature has been implicitly licensed to make copies or to authorize copies to be made, then it was misusing the copyrighted works when it placed them into law, and the law itself is null?

    By the way, I don't hold much stock with the idea that there is equal protection because you can go to the library to read the building code. Copyright doesn't, if I am not mistaken, put any kind of limitations on how the holder uses his monopoly. The copyright holder doesn't have to make them available to libraries or to the general public, but can use the work in other various profit maximizing ways. It isn't hard to envision various ways to turn exclusive control over the text of the law into a very lucrative business -- for example effectively dictating which builders are allowed to build in the state of TX. This is why I believe that any rational person who looks at this situation must believe that if the SBCC didn't abandon its interest in the code when it submitted it to the legislature, at the very least the legislature has a very broad right to publish (to authorize copies to be made) the law.

    It seems fair enough. The market value of the model code is nothing; the market value of the actual code comes from its adoption by the state.

  • There are a lot of arguments out there based on how ideas can't be considered property. I'd like to suggest an alternative: if it's property, it's subject to eminent domain. It is *clearly* in the people's best interest for the text of a law to be completely open and available to all. If the government is entitled to seize individual citizens' physical property to build a highway, it's sure as hell entitled to seize this little piece of intellectual property as well.

    The issue is not that the people who wrote these documents never had ownership, it's that they can and should be stripped of ownership for the public good.

  • I agree that this whole thing is stupid, but noone is granted a "right" to know the laws that they live under.

    Uhhhh, what?

    You have a responsibility to follow constitutional laws as passed...but you don't have a corresponding right to know what those laws are?

    That would make ignorance of the law a valid excuse, which it is not.

    A just legal system does not put people into a position where they can be punished for rules they don't have the right and opportunity to know about.
  • Welcome to America(tm). Home of the Free(tm). We invented freedom, and we copyrighted it. You may license it for a small (enormous) fee. - mensch.

    Thanks to the heavy private, closed, corporate influence in and of groups like WIPO, the WTO, and the drafting of documents like FTAA outside of public view, this is becoming a frightening possibility. Private groups controlling laws you're forced to obey, in effect taking the powers of the state with none of the checks or balances, and making a good amount of money from it, is the kind of nightmare depicted in Kosh-knows-how-many speculative fiction works. How fun to watch it unfold in front of our very eyes.

    I wonder if the term "RICO" could be apply certainly seems like a lot of these "non-profit" (HAH!) organizations are running rather lucrative rackets.
  • by Platinum Dragon ( 34829 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @12:11PM (#225384) Journal
    IIRC, isn't everything from government SPECIFICALLY excluded from copyright, as it's all done using the people's money? That applies to state governments, too, who write the building codes...

    According to the article, the building organization attacking our hero wrote the law and just handed it to the state to pass.

    Private groups writing laws and handing them to legislative bodies for rubber-stamping...where have we seen this take place before *coughDMCAcough*? Only this time it looks like the body wants to make a buck off the law people are expected to follow.

    This also creates a situation where a powerful private group with certain interests can draft a law heavily in their favour, get it passed by friends in a legislature, and keep it hidden from public view in order to keep people from seeing what their tax dollars went toward passing. Secret bodies of law? Rules that benefit a privileged few while no one else can see they exist? Sounds like paranoid fantasies, but this story goes to show such bizarre thoughts aren't too far from the realm of possibility.

    That's it. I'm going to hide under the bed. Call me when the nightmare's over.
  • by knarf ( 34928 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @05:21PM (#225385) Homepage

    Please back up for a second, and look at what you just wrote.

    Connect it to the subject you wrote about: laws which we're supposed to know and uphold.

    Now look at your comparison between a law text and a Stephen King novel.

    Comparing disparate things does not an argument make. The law is simply the written code which citizens of a 'civilized' country are supposed to follow. Since they're supposed to know the law, they should be able to get hold of the law texts when needed. While the same law may entitle writers to remuneration for their work, it is simply inexcusable to keep those affected by the law from reading the rules they're supposed to follow.

    The mere fact that you need to use lawyer-speak to defend the practice of charging for access to the law text indicates that the current implementation of 'law and order' has veered far and wide from the original purpose. Law, and everything related to it, is simply a profit center. It shouldn't be, but it is.

    Law texts should be freely available for anyone, and the Internet is one of the ways this can be achieved. End of argument.

  • by acidrain ( 35064 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @12:09PM (#225386)
    Yes, only in america. Thank god I'm not an American. Now if only we can keep them out of the WTO and shut down the FTAA the rest of the world will be spared this kind of IP relared braindamage...
  • Even better, I'll write up a law, copyright it, and get it passed. My law will repeal all copyright laws. Talk about a paradox.

    The tricky bit is getting it passed. Maybe you could have it added as a rider to something completly unrelated... e.g. "bill for paying legislators more money".
  • This also creates a situation where a powerful private group with certain interests can draft a law heavily in their favour, get it passed by friends in a legislature, and keep it hidden from public view in order to keep people from seeing what their tax dollars went toward passing.

    Even if it does become publically available after its been passed there is still a problem. Since it's going to be a lot harder to get something ammended after it has been passed.
    Also does not US copyright law have various "fair use" provisions which could be applied here.
  • Well, in this case, the state government didn't WRITE the buidling code -- they just adopted the code.
    So, the code, written by SBC, is still an "original work of authorship" subject to copyright protection.

    In the case of many publications submitting material means that you hand over copyright. e.g. letters to a newspaper. Maybe unconditionally maybe only if they publish it. Maybe the same criteria needs to apply to submissions to a legislative body.
  • You have a responsibility to follow constitutional laws as passed...but you don't have a corresponding right to know what those laws are?

    Except that there is a quirk in the US legislative process in that it is possible for laws which violate the US constitution to come into existance. With the only way of getting rid of them being to convince the US supreme court.
  • The Constitution places restrictions on the government, not the rights of the people.

    How many of the current US population understand that. As opposed to thinking that the US constitution (and the various state constitutions) are about either restrictions on people or even government giving rights to people.
    Having a written constitution still requires people to understand what it actually means.
  • The government purchases the copyright after the law has been passed (so that they aren't buying every oddball guideline that any thinks up) with taxpayer money, and releases it to the public domain.

    Actually this should happen when the proposed law is submitted. It's rather harder to ammend a law after it has been passed.

    That way the people who devised the guidelines are reimbursed for their effort,

    Why should they be paid for acting, most likely, out of self interest?
  • What happens in my eyes, is laws are made with a few scenarios taken into consideration, and as times change, the laws remain the same, never ever being reconsidered and often coming back to the limelight in some funny fashions.

    It is actually the job of a legislature to review existing laws and deal with those which are obsolete. Another way in which you get bad law is lobbying by special interest groups (who even if they are honest tend to have a rather warped perception.)
  • Furthermore, the argument suggests that when there's no financial interest directly at stake, laws don't get passed.

    Except when passing laws quality should matter far more than quantity.
  • it is also true that, if SBCCI invested a great deal in the development of those codes, they should get some kind of economic reward.

    Why? If they spend X amount on an advertisment should they get Y back in increased business? "They put a lot of work and thus deserve a reward" is the mentality of "corporate welfare". Anyway it is highly likely that they are submitting this kind of thing because they think it will help their business.

    Did the legislature screw up by incorporating copyrighted materials in legislation without getting rights to that copyright first?

    If a newspaper can make it a condition of sending letters to the editor that they get the copyright then a legislature can make it a rule that anything proposed as legislation is placed in the public domain.
  • by werdna ( 39029 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @12:54PM (#225408) Journal
    This article discusses the February holding of the Fifth Circuit, and is just the latest incarnation of decades of case law addressing copyrightability of technical building codes. Similar cases dating back into the 80s have emerged from the Second, Eighth, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits.

    My point here is not to argue that the result is a good one (I dislike this on public policy grounds for reasons similar to those laid forth elsewhere in this thread), but to suggest that this is hardly "the beginning of the end," or some new malevolence from the recently copyright-hungry courts. Since the 80's, this is how the law has shaken out on building codes. Over more than twenty years from the earliest opinions in this thread of which I am aware, the sky has not yet fallen.

    For a really interesting (and I think sound) discussion of why the case has merit and failings, I suggest reading the opinion and dissent itself, but particularly the dissent. They can be found here []. I am most impressed with Judge Little's argument that, once enacted into law, the words of a statute no longer serve just their expressive purposes, but are transmogrified into a functional idea. Clearly a bit too metaphysical for the Courts, but I anticipate that someday this notion may hold sway.

    In the meanwhile, building contractors have hardly had difficulty getting their hands on the building codes. They are readily available, both at the county clerk's office and from the original standards organizations.

    If, in fact, the parade of horribles had happened -- that is to say that the codes were not available to those who required them, republication would clearly have been fair use.
  • by csbruce ( 39509 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @01:30PM (#225409)
    The solution is pretty simple. In order to be enacted as law, the originators must surrender any copyright claims to the material in question. You'd think that legislatures would have enough brain power to figure something like this out, but who knows; we can't be sure where their paychecks are coming from. Industry standards organizations must work something like this also.

    As American as lawsuit lottery
  • by prisonercx ( 40652 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @01:53PM (#225411)
    Every time I turn around and read the front page of Slashdot, I see another article about how corporations and the government are screwing us out of more of our basic rights. Free dissemination of upcoming legislature? How can they take that away under the guise of copyright? Then I read about the Gracenote fiasco [] and how they are suing Roxio over switching to a competitor's database. Maybe I'm just angry and misinformed, but isn't the whole concept of the free market based on supplying the best product at the lowest price? It used to be that if you lost a customer because of your service, you improved your service, you didn't sue them for switching.

    It's cute and funny to make fun of people outside of the US for making comments about the legislature we let slip through the cracks, but it is very easy to see their perspective. I'm a college student, a Comp Sci major, and I have to worry about whether I will be liable for the code I create, even if it can be potentially used for malicious purposes. That's assuming the contract I signed with my company makes it my code at all.

    When will this insanity end? At some point, we're not going to be able to wake up from this bad dream; we might even be at this point now. If so, will someone please tell me what I can do about it? I see my future being buried in a morass of commercialism far worse than what we have now. How long is it until the government is the corporations in everything, including name? I'm honestly very scared for the direction I see this country taking. What can we, as concerned American citizens, do to shore up the last few freedoms that haven't been ripped from us?

    Flame me for being a newbie, whatever. I don't care. I'm just so pissed off at seeing well-intentioned people bending over for corporations who play us like pawns. We, as a citizenry, need a line in the sand to defend. I pose this question to /., some of the most technically informed people on the Internet: When do we start fighting back?

  • Judges making stupid rulings like this, in total contempt and defiance of the Constitution that makes this country a Republic, not a Monarchy, need to leard to FEAR and respect the People they serve. They are in office as servants of the Law, the highest Law being the Constutution. The Law is not THEIR servant.

    Judges today take after Humpty Dumpty. To them, the law means whatever they say it means, no more and no less. Consider this quote from the local paper today:

    Thank goodness our judges, like those in California, no longer have to take an oath of office binding them to "protect and defend" a Constitution written by such men as John Jay. Think how inconvenient that would be.

    Vin Suprynowicz, "The rights of juries take another hit []," Las Vegas Review-Journal, 13 May 2001

    (The rest of the column is recommended reading if you're interested in the rights of jurors to judge the law, as well as to apply it. These rights and others are under attack from the Men In Black.)

  • by Desert Raven ( 52125 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @12:30PM (#225426)
    >>This is a no-brainer win for a Congressman, so they will probably take it up. <<

    You think so? I certainly don't agree. Remember that most of your congresscritters are LAWYERS. They're the ones who put us in this situation. They also get a lot of money from people who very much want things to stay the way they are. And, last of all, lawyers don't make any money when the system is simple and fair. Changing this law would be a direct conflict of interest for the majority of Congress.

    I've always thought the US legal system was flawed in one particular way... Imagine a game where the citizens represent the players, and the lawyers represent the referees. The referees are paid by the players for both the length of the game, and the number of calls. Now, imagine that the referees could re-write the rules any time they wanted, including during the game. Now you've got a game where it is the referees' best interest to make the game last as long as possible, and have as many calls as possible.

    What do you call a lawyer who graded his own tests in law school?

    Your honor.

  • As many of you may know, I work for Kinkos, where we have a restrictive copyright policy (it has to be more restrictive than the actual law so we don't get sued *again*).

    A lady came in yesterday wanting to copy the MN State Driver's Manual for her daughter, but I couldn't do it because it had a copyright notice in it. Now, I'm under the impression that the government doesn't own copyrights (everything the gov't owns is in the public domain), but this must have been prepared by someone else.

    So I had to tell her no, and show her how to use the self-serve copiers so she could make copies (not of the copyrighted material, of course. *I don't know what in the world she actually copied, I hope she didn't break any laws!*).

    We wouldn't want these people to know how to drive, would we? It's better this way.
  • by Gildenstern ( 62439 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @11:49AM (#225440)
    How can this type of thing be allowed to happen. If laws aren't published how would anyone ever know that this exist. It is so wrong to think that we as good citizens are suppose to follow laws that we can't even ready.

    Any court that upholds this kind of thing must be funny in the head
  • by scoove ( 71173 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @12:03PM (#225450)
    I think you're referring to Kafka's "The Trial."

    Actually, while "The Trial" is important reading, "The Castle" is even more entertaining/depressing/fascinating. I've seen many dot-com horror stories that seem to have a lot of parallels.

    The updated "Castle" would be: showing up for a job one was hired for but only having everyone else being embarrassed for you because you showed up, not knowing you weren't needed since the position you were hired for was cancelled without your awareness.

    When you try to contact upper management to clear up the confusion, you'd be shunned by the other low-level employees who were horrified at your arrogance. After all, a new hire who shouldn't even be there in the first place can't just march up to the "senior management floor" without invitation and expect to command their time for your pathetic little problem.

    Yes, Kafka definitely foresaw our era.


  • by scoove ( 71173 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @11:55AM (#225451)
    What's next - speed limit signs with nothing but a toll-free number?

    "Call now and mention this sign to learn how fast you may legally go - only $2.95 per call!"

    And they say ignorance is no defense...


  • by dsplat ( 73054 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @03:40PM (#225454)
    Since we must obey the law, it should be accessible to us. Copyrighted material must either lose its copyright when used as the text of laws, or governments must be prohibited from using copyrighted laws.

    As for NSA Linux, the NSA would have to violate the terms of the GPL to release their changes in the public domain. You can argue that they should not have been allowed to publish except in the public domain, but it is hard to argue that they should have been allowed to violate the copyright on the various code they modified.

    The biggest difference here is that no one is compelled to use Linux. Obedience of the law is not similarly voluntary.
  • by EyesOfNostradamus ( 75825 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @12:02PM (#225458) Homepage
    Don't they realize that by condemning Peter Veeck for posting the building code, they are in effect repealing that building code. Here In France, we have a saying "Nul n'est censé ignorer la loi", meaning "Nobody is supposed to be in ignorance of the law". This saying is supposed to forestall the stupid excuse of "But your Honor, I didn't know that this act that I committed was against the law. Honest.".

    Now, the accused can prove that he could not have possibly known about the law (because publishing it would have been prohibited by copyright...), and suddenly this stupid excuse becomes a perfectly acceptable defense!

  • by Dios ( 83038 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @11:50AM (#225461) Homepage
    Hmm.. Why don't we just go back to the days of Kings and Queens..

    We have rules, and you can purchase a copy for $19.95 (all rights reserved). Otherwise take your chances and see if you break our rules. Oh yes, lending your purchased legal copy of the rules to somone else is a violation, and you will be fined. (of course, you would have known this had you purchased the rules..)

    I've been to Denison, TX (sister city to Cognac, France fyi (thanks Mr. Craig)). Its not that pretty of a city.

  • The developer juggernaut has been cranking out tracts of cookie-cutter houses that many don't like, but have to live in because there's nothing else. New Urbanism seeks an alternative that provides for the pedestrian and bicycle. A major way New Urbanists advance their agenda is by promoting "smart codes" to replace existing but antiquated war-era developer codes. Without access to existing codes, there would be no way to loosen ourselves from the death-grip of ugly suburban development.
  • by BierGuzzl ( 92635 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @01:09PM (#225467)
    Be careful! start quoting the text of that court case and you might be violatingn a copyright!
  • by niekze ( 96793 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @12:32PM (#225469) Homepage
    Seriously. Douglas Adam's really hit the head on the hammer. Compare this passage to the copyrighting building codes :)

    "But Mr. Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months."

    "Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn't exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody of anything."

    "But the plans were on display..."

    On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them."

    "That's the display department."

    "With a flashlight."

    "Ah, well the lights had probably gone."

    "So had the stairs."

    "But look, you found the notice didn't you?"

    "Yes, yes I did. 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.' "

  • by alexhmit01 ( 104757 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @11:58AM (#225473)
    You have a right to know the laws that you live under. In this scenario, you have no ability to follow the law because you can't obtain the law.

    Write your Congressmen and tell them that this concerns you as a citizen. Explain that you are a voter (list your address), mention your concern on this issue.

    This is a no-brainer win for a Congressman, so they will probably take it up. We are pretty well spread on this site throughout the United States, so we might actually be able to bring this to congressional attention.

  • just as much as I can copy under fair use?

    It depends on how much money you have to give to the judge. Fair use under United States copyright law is defined vaguely by 17 USC 107 [] but severely limited in practice by 17 USC 1201 []. However, only nine people know what fair use really is [].

  • by theancient1 ( 134434 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @12:45PM (#225490) Homepage
    The next step will be to adopt a pay-per-use scheme for laws. In order to read the laws, you'd have to pay a fee. But since the legal firm would obviously want a cut every time someone was charged with breaking the law, you'd have to pay a licence fee if you were planning to break the law, too.

    Man: "Hi, I'd like to buy one 'grand theft auto', please."
    Officer: "Okay, that will be $19.95. Hey, wait a just a minute... what are you planning to do with a grand theft auto licence?"
    Man: "Well I already have one in my reference library at home, but I wanted to have one for work, too. It's illegal to make a duplicate of a copyrighted work, you know."
    Officer: "Very well. Here's you're grand theft auto licence."

    Officer: "I'm writing you a ticket for driving over the speed limit."
    Woman: "I'm sorry, but I don't have a licence for the speeding law."
    Officer: "You don't? Well perhaps I should charge you with copyright infringement instead? Where did you get permission to speed? Did you download an illegal copy of the law from Napster?"
    Woman: "I was actually using a GPL'ed version of the speeding law. There is no fine for breaking that one, and it's freely available on the internet."
    Officer: "What do you mean, GPL'ed laws?"
    Woman: "Well since it's illegal to have a monopoly, the government had to open up the law licencing business to competition. Since the licence fees on your laws were so high, I decided to buy someone else's laws."

    James Bond had a licence to kill, didn't he? Maybe they were trying to tell us something.

    I guess we're going to have to start trading the text of the legal code on Gnutella.
  • by BitwizeGHC ( 145393 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @01:03PM (#225501) Homepage
    This reminds me of the example, oft-cited in anti-Microsoft arguments, of Ford cars being licensed for use only on Ford roads...
  • "... to disseminate copies of the law."

    "Sorry kid, ignorance of the law is no excuse."

  • by sandidge ( 150265 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @11:49AM (#225508)
    Yes, but by filing their suit, they have violated my patent on assinine bullshit! Caught those bastards red-handed!

  • by shanek ( 153868 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @12:07PM (#225513) Homepage
    The only difference between this and the rest of the legal system is the copyright aspect. The complexity of the legal system means that ordinary citizens don't have a chance of understanding them. Even lawyers have to specialize. No one can know all the law, but we're all supposed to follow it.

    If you're going to write your Congressman, put it in the form of a "right to understand the law" issue. Not only would that mean free dissemination sans copyright, it would also mean that acts would have to be plainly worded.

    The usual rebuttal to this idea is that lawyers and judges could interpret the law in any way they wish. But isn't that the system we have now? The only difference is, regular Joe Blows have to take the word of the lawyers and judges. If the laws were plainly worded, we'd be better able to form opinions on which judges are following the law and which are following their own agenda, and be able to vote the latter out of office.

  • by Rubyflame ( 159891 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @11:53AM (#225517) Homepage
    ...but ignorance is no excuse.
  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @11:52AM (#225529) Homepage
    So I can't publish what laws I'm living under, because I don't own the copyright? That makes sense, now we just need a legislative body that use them, and we've got a *secret* law. Yep, that's right. Not even a law collection could publish it, if the copyright holders refuse.

    Is it just me that has Kafka's "The process" (or whatever the correct english translation is) coming to mind?

  • by EricEldred ( 175470 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @04:16PM (#225532) Homepage

    The case in question is but the latest in a long line of similar cases, but it has been ably discussed online over the last several months by some real lawyers in the mailing list archived at under "Veeck vs. SBCCI (US 5th Circuit Ct Appeals)"

    If you would rather read some authentic legal opinion instead of the rants of the rest of us on /., please follow the cni-copyright list (and thanks to CNI for hosting it).

    It seems to me that these cases violate the spirit of copyright and wrongly instantiate a peculiar economic interest in something called "intellectual property" that is false and repugnant in a democracy under law. Therefore we ought to join together to repeal such laws and decisions, and forge new rules more suitable for this age of the Internet.

  • by stinkydog ( 191778 ) <sd AT strangedog DOT net> on Sunday May 13, 2001 @02:25PM (#225545) Homepage
    If the law is illegal, only criminals will know the law!

  • by dropdead ( 201019 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @02:42PM (#225551)
    In the Russia it used they used to arrest people and tell them you have no right to see the law your being arrested for.And if you asked to see the laws it was considered a subversive act that you could be arrested for.
    When you consider requests under freedom of information acts are often considered suspicious and anything under the sun can literally be given a copyright or patent. You have to wonder who won the cold war.
    But communisim will never win, governments still prefer greed.

  • by The Monster ( 227884 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @04:33PM (#225576) Homepage
    It can't be. This is so simple: The laws enacted by Congress (and state legislatures), and the regulations promulgated by various agencies under those laws, do not become active until they are published. Every county commission or city council has a designated Official Newspaper in which it must pay (under a contract that gets them reduced rates, of course) for such publication before an ordinance can take effect.

    Not only the laws and regulations themselves, but every word of debate that goes into them is free as in speech (with rare National Security exceptions) because of the Freedom of Information Act (and state Sunshine laws). This is not just a matter of a law that is easily amended. There's this thing called the, um, Constitution:

    [Art. I, 5 2] Each house shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such parts as may in their judgement require secrecy; and the yeas and nays of the members of either house on any question shall, at the desire of one-fifth of those present, be entered on the journal.
    Add to this the injuctions against ex post facto laws or bills of attainder, and some other language best left to the pros (IANAL), and you've got a strong basis for the presumption that the text of a law is effectively in the public domain.
  • Remember "Ignorance of the law is no excuse". I used to think that was a perfectly reasonable thing, but if privare organizations are now taking steps to actively prevent my access and disrupt my attempts to reduce my ignorance, I have a BIG problem with that.

    I wonder what effect this will have on due diligence. Can I demonstrate that I excercised due diligence in researching the law (with respect to, say, a business dealing) if I stop short of spending $750 to obtain a copy of the california building codes?


  • "How can this type of thing be allowed to happen. If laws aren't published how would anyone ever know that this exist. It is so wrong to think that we as good citizens are suppose to follow laws that we can't even ready."

    Not to mention that in a court, IGNORANCE of a law is not a defense...

    "Any court that upholds this kind of thing must be funny in the head"

    The court system in general these days is funny in the head. It's not just the laws that are coming from corporate lobby groups these days, the JUDGES do also. Most federal judges used to be private practice lawyers (in big swanky firms), and it's the corpers who mostly employ them.

    What doesn't make sense to me is that a LAW can both be copyrighted AND be a LAW... It seems contradictory. If the law in question was the legally copyrighted IP of those clown, then the judge should have thrown it out.

    Let me reply to some of your well made points:

    "Maybe I'm just angry and misinformed, but isn't the whole concept of the free market based on supplying the best product at the lowest price? It used to be that if you lost a customer because of your service, you improved your service, you didn't sue them for switching."

    This is very true, that is, if the USA were truly a free market. It isn't. In a free market, the best product wins, and anyone who wants to and can do it can create a better product. The USA is NOT CAPITALIST. Neither is it a Republic. Rather, it became the worst of all governments, a DEMOCRACY (mob rule) and the mob empowered the government to "make them happy" at the expense of freedom and individuality. Democracies don't last long and become dictatorships quickly. The USA is rapidly becoming the most insiduous of all tyrranies, one with all the "auspices" of a Republic, but none of the moderating influences "court diplomacy and honor" of a true outright monarchy.

    What we have in the USA today could be best described as "Corporate Socialism", where we have a few corporations given exclusive rights to control certain industries. Unlike the USSR and China, where Marxist/Lenninism was imposed by the government taking over industry, here in the US it's happening backwards, with industry taking over the government...

    "If so, will someone please tell me what I can do about it?"

    Call and write your Representative and Senators. God knows your local corporations are. If that doesn't work, and crap like this is allowed to stand, then the ultimate recourse is to take up arms against what is a tyrranical (and according to the Constitution and Declaration of Independance), ILLEGAL government.

    That may sound extreme, but it's a thought that MUST enter into the equation at this point. A government that doesn't fear revolutin is a fearless government, one that fears not to impose it's own tyranny on the citizens, and cares not about obeying the laws (Constitution) or even in accepting the outcomes of an election.
  • Ignorance of a law is not a defense against it. Ok, now they are passing laws that are "copyrighted IP" which can be sold or published only at the discretion of the copyright holder...

    Doesn't this seem to you like a great way for corps to get laws (like the DMCA) passed, then PREVENT the public from being able to even READ it without violating some inane IP law (like the DMCA)?

    How would you, as an individual, DEFEND yourself against a law that you wouldn't even be allowed to READ except by license from your accuser?

    How can you, as an iddividual citizen, excercise your Constitutionally protected right of PETITION to get a bad law overturned, if you couldn't even inform the public as to what your problems with that law were, except by getting a license from the very people you oppose?

    I bet Valenti, et all are kicking themselves at this very moment for not thinking of this idea when they sent the DMCA to be rubber stamped by their bought congress and president...

    I'm beginning to think maybe it's time to start thinking of emigrating to some other country that needs IT people.
  • "How can anyone prohibit the distribution of written law in a democratic republic?"

    Simply, you can't. With that, is proof that the USA has already crossed the line and is no longer a democratic republic, but rather an Oligarchy with a "republic esque" structure.
  • "Scary indeed. Thanks for clearing that up.
    I think I'm going to hide under my bed now, too. And they say you don't need to be paranoid..."

    I feel the same. But there is another law passed by Congress in 1776 that has relevance for this kind of situation... I better post this now, before some anti-freedom 4 letter acronym copyrights it:

    "When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of 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 shewn, 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."
  • "And because the DCMA makes it illegal to break a protection system, any part of this conversation about changing this copyrighted law is illegal."

    When that starts happening, then the intended purpose of the 2nd Amendment becomes obvious...

    Judges making stupid rulings like this, in total contempt and defiance of the Constitution that makes this country a Republic, not a Monarchy, need to leard to FEAR and respect the People they serve. They are in office as servants of the Law, the highest Law being the Constutution. The Law is not THEIR servant.
  • by RalphTWaP ( 447267 ) on Monday May 14, 2001 @07:42AM (#225650)
    Now then...

    This *acutally* hits the core of the problem. It's not a question of a single person having access to the law. That access is guaranteed regardless of IP/Copyright issues by the courts. The access may be restricted in some respects (the county clerk's office has a looooong lunch break), and the access may be to only a handful of formats (written, braille--I believe required, etc). But there will be access.

    However, the real threat comes when the text of the law needs dissemination to a third party.

    How can you, as an iddividual citizen, excercise your Constitutionally protected right of PETITION to get a bad law overturned, if you couldn't even inform the public as to what your problems with that law were, except by getting a license from the very people you oppose?

    *points upward* This is exactly the situation that must be avoided. A person or group denouncing the law would have to license the right to publish the law from the IP holders.

    Without the right to publish the law, without the right to allow others to view the law at thier leisure, there can *be* no informed public. Thus there can be no democratic process with respect to the law.

    In short, restricting by any positive action, access to the text of the laws prevents the very exercise of democracy that the laws intend to forward. While I would also argue that it abrogates the individual's inherant right to self-governance (how may I enter into a social contract without first being able to understand the contract), the important sticking point is that the process of democracy is being destroyed from underneath--by eliminating the informed citizenry needed to propigate it.

    Nietzsche on Diku:
    sn; at god ba g
    :Backstab >KILLS< god.
  • by blang ( 450736 ) on Sunday May 13, 2001 @01:27PM (#225654)
    This happens other places too. Have you tried to get a copy of an ISO document lately? It's stupid, but you have to pay 100's of bucks (or swiss francs) to get a copy of ISO standards.

    It is only lately that laws have been made available to the common man.

    If you try to find out about trade regulations and stuff, you will need to read a few truckloads of stuff.

    For example, in Norway, we had this volunteer project going, where we tried to collect all of Norwegian law online. We had too weed out footnotes that had been added by the publisher of the law books, since those were the intellectual property of the publisher. We did not trust that the publisher would not stop the project, so the homepage was moved to Switzerland.

    It was easy to hold us accountable for what we did. However, it should have been the government's duty to make this information available. We shouldn't have had to act as vigilantes to make this information available. It is much harder to hold a government accountable, or force them to do something in a timely fashion. It is written in the law, that the law must be made available to all citizens, but the law fails to mention how that should be done. (Sure, it's available. Just visit the national archives, and you can peruse the documents. We're not stopping you.). The law does state, that not knowing about a law is not a valid excuse for breaking the law.

    The common man must use his own common sense to try and keep his nose clean; laws are just to unwieldy to make any sense. But common sense is not enough. How many times have you said "There's gotta be some law agaist that". Or "Is that the law? who thinks up this shit?"

    Common sense works great if the law was based on that. But it is not. Law is decided by politicians, who openly receive bribes (or campaign contributions as they call it). Both republican and democrats are prostitutes in this area. Do you really think there will be a campaign reform anytime soon? Forget it. Both parties get too much money, and they would not be so stupid that they would bite off the hand that feeds them . However, they should remember that they are in office toserve the public.

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.