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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.
Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.Org has long done yeoman’s work in furtherance of the public domain. Who can forget that it was he who forced the SEC to build and maintain the EDGAR database for public access to company filings? And he’s long been on the side of open law (“Law is the operating system of our society … So show me the manual!”).
Now he’s working on a little side project to find out — and more importantly make publicly accessible! — how much of the scholarly journal literature is actually in the public domain:
“Our audit has determined that 1,264,429 journal articles authored by federal employees or officers are potentially void of copyright…In addition, 2,031,359 of the articles in my possession are dated 1923 or earlier. These 2 categories represent 4.92% of scihub.”
This represents only a small chunk of the 63+ million articles estimated to be available in SciHub, the rebel search engine that bypasses publisher paywalls to give free access to over 62,000,000 academic papers (one could, if one were intrigued, access SciHub via onion link in the Tor browser). After his analysis is done, he’ll be making it publicly available. Way to go Carl!
Read Carl’s entire tweet thread below:
1/10 Public Resource has been conducting an intensive audit of the scholarly literature. We have focused on works of the U.S. government.
— Carl Malamud (@carlmalamud) June 6, 2017
Here’s some solid research by the Free Law Project about Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER). Amazing how much revenue PACER makes each year. That’s a TON of pages downloaded by users of public domain legal information! And they’ve got some ideas for developing a solution to this problem.
In total, that’s $1.2B that PACER has brought in over 21 years, with an average revenue of $60.7M per year. The average for the last five years is more than twice that — $135.2M/year.1 These are remarkable numbers and they point to one of two conclusions. Either PACER is creating a surplus — which is illegal according to the E-Government Act — or PACER is costing $135M/year to run.
Whichever the case, it’s clear that something has gone terribly wrong. If the justice system is turning a profit selling public domain legal documents through its public access system, that’s wrong. If the judicial branch needs $60M/year to run a basic website, that’s gross waste, and that’s wrong too.
Something needs to be done to rein in PACER, and again we ask that public citizens, Congress, journalists, and the courts work to develop a solution.
OMG I am so excited. This morning, Daniel Schuman and the fine folks at DemandProgress announced the launch of EveryCRSReport.com, a new website with 8,200 CRS reports from the Library of Congress’ Congressional Research Service (CRS), and more coming.
This is so awesome because CRS reports, written by experts in “Congress’ Think Tank,” have long been NOT available to the public unless a person contacted her member of Congress and *asked* for a report. See the problem here? Government reports — which are legally in the PUBLIC DOMAIN! — NOT available to the public, and one would need to know about the existence of a report in order to ask for the report. CRAZY!
This has been a long time in coming. Librarians and open government groups have been advocating for the public release of CRS reports for at least as long as I’ve been a librarian (15+ years) and likely longer. Change *does* come, but sometimes it happens in a geological timeframe.
For more, see Daniel’s post “Why I Came To Believe CRS Reports Should be Publicly Available (and Built a Website to Make it….” Congratulations and THANK YOU Daniel!
Here are the highlights:
On the website:
- 8,200 reports
- Search + the ability to filter reports by topic
- Automatic updates through RSS feeds
- Freshness ratings, which say how much a report changed when it was updated
- The ability to view reports on your mobile device
- Bulk download of all the reports
- All the code behind the site (build your own!)
- For each report, we:
- Redacted the author’s name, email, and phone number, except in a tiny subset of reports
- Explained the report is not copyrighted and its purpose is to inform Congress
oday my organization, in concert with others, is published 8,200 CRS reports on a new
website, EveryCRSReport.com. We are not the first organization to publish CRS reports. Many others have done so. Nor are we the first to advocate for public access. We’re part of a huge coalition including other former CRS employees. But I think we are the first to publish just about all the (non-confidential) reports currently available to members of Congress, in concert with a bipartisan pair of members who are providing the reports to us, and with a method to keep on doing so.We have tried to address CRS’s concerns. We redacted the contact information for the people who wrote the reports. We added information about why the reports are written and that they’re not subject to copyright. And we added a few nice bells and whistles to the website, such as letting you know how much a report has changed when it’s been revised.We think Congress as an institution should publish the reports. We support bicameral, bipartisan legislation to do so. And we hope that our website will help show the way forward.
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