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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.
File this under “not quite getting the concept.” President Obama just published an article in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) entitled “United States Health Care Reform: Progress to Date and Next Steps.”. But strangely, according to TechDirt, the AMA is claiming copyright on the article despite Section 105 of US copyright law clearly stating that works by the US government being in the public domain. Good on Professor Michael Eisen, from UC Berkeley and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, who sent a letter to the President asking him to ask JAMA to correct this error!
Whatever you might think of the Presidents health care policy, you should absolutely appreciate the willingness to publish data and details like this — and to make it freely available online. But theres something thats still problematic here. And it has a lot more to do with the American Medical Association than the President. And its that — in typically idiotic closed access medical journal fashion — JAMA is claiming the copyright on the article. Theres a copyright permissions link in the righthand column, and if you click on it, you get taken to a page on Copyright.com, a site run by the Copyright Clearance Center, claiming that the copyright for this document is held by the American Medical Association
According to my pal Kris Kasianovitz over at Free State Government Information, California Assembly Bill AB 2880, which would have granted state agencies sweeping powers to copyright their materials — a horrendously bad idea to say the least! — has been amended to remove ALL language about copyright! Please see these posts by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) (big thanks to their coalition advocacy effort on this) and Courthouse News.
EFF summed up the problem thusly:
“Such a broad grant of copyright authority to state and local governments will chill speech, stifle open government, and harm the public domain. It is our hope that the state legislature will scuttle this approach and refrain from covering all taxpayer funded works under a government copyright.”
Thank you to any and all who sent opposition letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The amended version is swiftly making it’s way through the Senate.
The full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (30 chapters, more than 230 PDF files, and more than 2,000 pages) is now available from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
- Trans-Pacific Partnership, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
[The link to the ustr.gov site was very slow this morning. Another copy of the TPP is available from New Zealand http://tpp.mfat.govt.nz/text and NZ also has a zip file of all 30 chapters: www.mfat.govt.nz/downloads/trade-agreement/transpacific/TPP-text/TPP_All-Chapters.zip]
I don’t know how the state of Georgia got to this convoluted way of thinking, but they’re suing Carl Malamud and public.resource.org for copyright infringement because he had the audacity to try and make states’ laws freely and publicly accessible. Go ahead and read the law suit and see for yourself how twisted their legal argument is.
Two years ago, we wrote about the state of Georgia ridiculously threatening to sue Carl Malamud and his site Public.Resource.org for copyright infringement… for publishing an official annotated copy of the state’s laws. This followed on a similar threat from the state of Oregon, which wisely backed down. Malamud has spent the last few years of his life doing wonderful and important work trying to make sure that the laws that we live by are actually available to the public. 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. And then, the question is whether or not the law itself should be subject to copyright restrictions. Malamud has long argued no, while the state has obviously argued yes, probably blinded by the revenue from selling its official copy of the annotated code.
It took two years, but the state has now done the absolutely ridiculous thing of suing Malamud. It is about as ridiculous as you would expect again focusing on the highly questionable claim that the Official Code of Georgia Annotated is covered by federal copyright law — and that not only was Malamud (*gasp*) distributing it, but also… creating derivative works! Oh no! And, he’s such an evil person that he was encouraging others to do so as well!