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Georgia Lawmakers Sue Carl Malamud For Publishing Georgia Law 292

TechDirt reports that the state of Georgia is unhappy enough with Carl Malamud for publishing the state's own laws that it's sued Malamud for doing so. From the article: The specific issue here is that while the basic Georgia legal code is available to the public, the state charges a lot of money for the "Official Code of Georgia Annotated." The distinction here is fairly important -- but it's worth noting that the courts will regularly rely on the annotations in the official code, which more or less makes them a part of the law itself. The article uses the word "ridiculous" only 10 times; they're taking it easy on the poor legislators.
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Georgia Lawmakers Sue Carl Malamud For Publishing Georgia Law

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    In my opinion, if you can not freely access a law, then it should not apply to you. Apparently ignorance of the law is no defence either.

    The law and the state exist entirely to serve the people and make civilisation function. Law makers repeatedly forget that it does not exist to benefit them.

    Oh well, tax me silly and bully my peers, we all die some day. Long live neo-feudalism!

  • by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Saturday July 25, 2015 @09:32AM (#50180605) Journal

    Note to editors: the article has been updated to strike out part of the that you have quoted in TFS. You should probably update that as well.

    So, the annotations are not part of the law. They are comments about the manner in which the law was applied in certain cases, no?

    Devil's Advocate...while yes, you can't copyright the law, are you saying you can't copyright things written about the law? How about textbooks used by law schools?

    • I'm rather disappointed to see that this comment is so far down the list, but it's exactly right, as far as I understand.

      The law itself isn't being claimed, but the notes and analysis are. It's the same analysis one could get by going to a library and poring over case history for a few years, but presented in a concise and topical format. You don't really need that information to know the law. You might need that information to defend yourself optimally in a court case, in which case the normal and reasonab

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        However, because the state itself is filing suit, it is claiming ownership of those annotations. That's fine, but the state is not permitted to hold copyrights because it is a body of the people.

        So, either Georgia owns the annotations and so they're free for all or Georgia does not, and so has no standing to sue.

    • by caseih ( 160668 )

      Well if things said about the law are used by lawmakers and judges to interpret the laws then yes, they should not be copyrightable. If a Harvard law textbook was being used by lawyers and judges to prosecute the law, then that textbook's copyright should be null and void also. Otherwise the law cannot apply equally to all.

      • Those things are other case decisions, which are not copyrightable. But the annotations, linking the decisions to the cases in concise and useful ways is copyrightable. See my other replies in this thread. Malamud is wrong.

    • Re:Meta data? (Score:5, Informative)

      by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Saturday July 25, 2015 @10:13AM (#50180763) Journal

      Other note: I said the author updated the article. He updated it to link to the state of Georgia website, which he says links directly to the annotated code, calling it the "official code of Georgia." He did not follow his own link. The link goes to the unannotated code, hosted by LexisNexis, which identifies itself as "LexisNexis, author of the annotated code." But yeah, following Georgia's link gets you to the unannotated code, which is the official Georgia code.

      Yeah yeah, I'm a "copyright is evil and information wants to be anthropomphized" guy, but while copyright exists, I think Georgia is right. This is not the law. The annotations are links to cases where that law was applied. Judges would follow those links and cite the previous decisions, as applicable, never the annotation.

      In other states annotations are published and sold by a third party, like WestLaw. The difference here is Georgia owns the annotations itself and sells them to lawyers. If it's no longer worthwhile to do so, what will happen is Georgia will stop commissioning LexisNexis to produce the annotated code, LexisNexis will do it itself and sell copies to both lawyers and the state of Georgia, which will purchase them for judges and prosecutors. Malamud will definitely not win publishing annotations copyrighted by LexisNexis, and now instead of the annotations being revenue neutral (or profitable), the profits will all go to LexisNexis. So, meh.

      • And another thing: if Malamud thinks annotations are super-important for a free society and understanding the law...great! Your organization should dedicate itself to compiling and publishing annotated state laws. The codes are public domain. The decisions are public domain. Slog through them and pick out relevant bits of decisions and link them to laws in a useful way. Make an open source platform to do it, like a "Wikipedia for laws" where anybody can annotate their state's laws.

        But right now you can't ju

      • In other states annotations are published and sold by a third party, like WestLaw. The difference here is Georgia owns the annotations itself and sells them to lawyers. If it's no longer worthwhile to do so, what will happen is Georgia will stop commissioning LexisNexis to produce the annotated code, LexisNexis will do it itself and sell copies to both lawyers and the state of Georgia, which will purchase them for judges and prosecutors. Malamud will definitely not win publishing annotations copyrighted by

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Lets start by clearing something up. The GA legislature creates and passes the statutes - the actual law. The text of the statute is not subject to copyright. The lawsuit does not address the text of the statute. Courts issue decisions interpreting and applying the law. Neither statutes nor court decisions are subject to copyright.

    What the lawsuit focuses on are the ANNOTATIONS. The annotations are short topical summaries that briefly explain what a court said about the statute. An annotation is writte

    • by Rydia ( 556444 )

      This is 100% true. The contents of the annotations are summaries of cases written by someone other than the court (sometimes the court's staff but most often by an indexing service like Lexis), and aren't actually law. Their sole purpose is to identify to attorneys and judges which cases stand for which principles. They are never even a complete statement of the law of that case, since they are usually a short paragraph long and only mention one of many issues the court dealt with. Half the time, the case i

    • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Saturday July 25, 2015 @10:22AM (#50180795)

      Sure, and if LexisNexis owns the copyright they can sue, but the State would have no standing to do so. No more than I can sue you for pirating a Disney movie.

      The fact that the state is suing implies that THEY are claiming copyright ownership. And while I'm not 100% certain about Georgia, that would certainly not fly if the federal government were the one making the claim - as an agent of the people, any works owned by the government are automatically placed in the public domain.

    • What the lawsuit focuses on are the ANNOTATIONS. The annotations are short topical summaries that briefly explain what a court said about the statute. An annotation is written by someone who works for a publisher, after reading a court case.

      This case may very well hinge upon "who wrote them?". If as you say, written by someone who works for a publisher, that publisher would hold copyright (on those annotations alone!) and would be the party going to court.

      But it seems it's the state going to court here. Which means it's the state believing it holds copyright here. Read: state employee(s) writing those annotations. In which case this lawsuit would be a non-starter, regardless of whether those annotations are deemed essential for understanding

    • What the lawsuit focuses on are the ANNOTATIONS.

      He is publishing the "Official Code of Georgia", published under the "Authority of the State of Georgia". Either the annotations are an essential and/or official part of Georgia law, in which case they should not be copyrighted, or they are a convenient additional aid for lawyers, in which case they shouldn't be part of the "Official Code of Georgia" "Published Under Authority of the State of Georgia" and published separately and given no special preference to

    • The original post and all of these comments are full of misinformation:
      - State works (including state laws, cases, their website, everything) can be copyrighted. Only federal works are exempt from copyright.
      - The provided link only posts a listing of the unannotated laws.
      - Georgia can own the copyright, even if someone else wrote the annotations, as long as the author was an employee or they assigned their interest to the State.
  • As a resident of Georgia this would be ONE case I would not mind being on the jury for. As with so many things that this State's legislature does this is beyond absurd. If this is being published by the State of Georgia as an official document then it should fall under the Open Records Act. Yes, a "reasonable" charge for producing a document is included in that Act and, even though IANAL, I worked for this state for over 30 years and was involved in a number of open records cases and the "reasonable" req
    • As a resident of Georgia this would be ONE case I would not mind being on the jury for. As with so many things that this State's legislature does this is beyond absurd. If this is being published by the State of Georgia as an official document then it should fall under the Open Records Act.

      And since it's not, then you'd be a typical uninformed jury member who has made up his mind based on what one media source says about something.

      As others have noted, this is not an "official document" and the statutes are not subject to copyright. It's a bunch of third party commentary about the statute that is subject to copyright, much like a textbook or treatise or thesis.

  • Title appears wrong (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Saturday July 25, 2015 @10:10AM (#50180757)

    Unless I misread the summary, or it is wrong, Carl Malamud is not being sued for publishing Georgia laws, as it states you can do that freely. He's being sued for publishing annotations on Georgia laws that he copied from elsewhere.

    • by fonos ( 847221 )

      The courts regularly rely on the official annotations to rule on cases, thereby making them a part of the law.

      • by SeaFox ( 739806 )

        The courts regularly rely on the official annotations to rule on cases, thereby making them a part of the law.

        While everyone is focusing on the copyright angle, I find that interesting.
        If the court is unable to understand the laws without Cliff's Notes, there's something wrong with the laws themselves.

      • No they don't. The annotations are summeries of case law. The courts will cite that case law, not the annotations.

    • Then again if the state of Georgia paid for the annotations are they not now public property? Not even considering that law and Georgia are not words to be used in the same paragraph other than by a comedian during his performances.
      • You can't necessarily argue that just because the state paid for something, it needs to become public property. But I will agree that unless there is a good reason why not, it should. While the annotations are not strictly necessary for an understanding of the law (you can look up the relevant case law the annotations depend upon), I think it would be a good thing in this case to make them freely available.

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