Title 17, section 105 of the US code forbids the federal government from claiming copyright over its own publications. No such restriction exists for state governments, however, and many states have asserted copyright over things that one would think couldn’t possibly be treated as private property: legal codes, case law, the very stuff that government is made of. Worse yet, a few state governments have even awarded copyrights to 3rd party publishers in exchange for taking over the burden of printing and annotating their large, bound publications.
All that ended Monday when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Public.Resource.Org in its case against the state of Georgia. States can no longer claim copyright over works which are authored and prepared by state employees. State publications are now unambiguously in the public domain.
Court decision: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1150_7m58.pdf
The story of this case and how librarian hero Carl Malamud has fought it for the better part of a decade is a rather good one. I remember when he first lost in the district courts, and we all thought that was the end for him. But he appealed and took it all the way to the top; and now he’s won, in the biggest way possible. It’s a huge victory for public access to government information. And a modest win for sanity in the public sphere more generally.
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