Today's copyright decision

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KevinS
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Post by KevinS » April 27th, 2020, 10:19 pm

A close call.

WASHINGTON — Georgia may not copyright its entire official code, which includes both the state’s laws and annotations interpreting them, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday. The 5-to-4 decision featured unusual alliances and would most likely be widely felt, as about 20 other states have claimed that parts of similar annotated codes are copyrighted.

“If everything short of statutes and opinions were copyrightable,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority, “then states would be free to offer a whole range of premium legal works for those who can afford the extra benefit. A state could monetize its entire suite of legislative history. With today’s digital tools, states might even launch a subscription or pay-per-law service.”

etc.

(From the NY Times)
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icequeen
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Post by icequeen » April 29th, 2020, 9:24 pm

KevinS wrote:
April 27th, 2020, 10:19 pm
A close call.

WASHINGTON — Georgia may not copyright its entire official code, which includes both the state’s laws and annotations interpreting them, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday. The 5-to-4 decision featured unusual alliances and would most likely be widely felt, as about 20 other states have claimed that parts of similar annotated codes are copyrighted.

“If everything short of statutes and opinions were copyrightable,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority, “then states would be free to offer a whole range of premium legal works for those who can afford the extra benefit. A state could monetize its entire suite of legislative history. With today’s digital tools, states might even launch a subscription or pay-per-law service.”

etc.

(From the NY Times)


Good Lord, don't give these money-strapped states any ideas! :D
Ann

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annise
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Post by annise » April 29th, 2020, 11:08 pm

Interesting - I'm not taking any side in this particular case or in US politics, but when laws were made the concept of information freely available online did not exist. It costs money to digitise and host stuff on line - in the case of Governments our taxes - so is everything that is publicly available somewhere legally unable to charge either directly or with ads?

Anne

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Post by tovarisch » April 30th, 2020, 6:20 am

Digitizing is not expensive if they already have some kind of electronic form of the paperwork (don't they?). Hosting is not more expensive than making it available in paper form. And both aspects have already been accounted for in the budget for decades.

As to being "money-strapped", it's a matter of opinion. Besides, I am sure politicians will happily consume every penny they get their hands on. Don't expect any charity from them.
tovarisch
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KevinS
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Post by KevinS » April 30th, 2020, 11:06 am

annise wrote:
April 29th, 2020, 11:08 pm
Interesting - I'm not taking any side in this particular case or in US politics, but when laws were made the concept of information freely available online did not exist. It costs money to digitise and host stuff on line - in the case of Governments our taxes - so is everything that is publicly available somewhere legally unable to charge either directly or with ads?

Anne
Like everything---it's complicated. Many U.S. documents are placed in the public domain by their very nature. I'd like to say 'most,' but there is no telling what is locked in people's cabinets. I guess it's safe to say that most government documents published by the government are in the public domain. The United States does not have a policy like Great Britain, Canada, etc... whereby the Crown holds the copyright.

This specific decision addresses copyright supposedly held by State legislatures, if I read it correctly, and the decision is that statutes and the annotations are not protected. People can be charged a reasonable sum for receiving printed copies but the material is generally available online and at libraries for no charge.

The backstory to this is that private interest groups are more and more drafting rules and legislation for government agencies and legislatures and these private groups want to hold on to their 'rights.' It's an awful development in American politics.

Hope this isn't boring for you!
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annise
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Post by annise » April 30th, 2020, 4:44 pm

This is getting political which wasn't what I intended, we have freedom of information which is regularly disputed but if you win you have to pay to get it.
I was thinking of the nongovernment sites who charge you to download digitised things - there seems to be a belief that there needs to be "sweat of the brow" involved if you want to charge for PD things.

Anne

ColleenMc
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Post by ColleenMc » May 3rd, 2020, 5:50 am

States have always had to pay the expense of providing copies of the laws to state agencies administering them, even if each county got just one printed copy of the book of laws that everyone had to pass around in the clerk and DAs offices. In that sense they always had an expense of publishing and distributing (in fact the stipulation that the state has to “publish” and distribute copies of its laws is written into most if not all state constitutions) and the cost is much less and distribution far easier with digital.

There have also always been commercial entities that made money by taking that copyright-free material and packaging publishing it in various useful formats. When I was a GA police officer, the agency purchased multiple copies of the state criminal and traffic law books put out by a commercial publisher (annotated and arranged specifically for law enforcement audiences) for reference in the station, and later in the year when the publisher would clearance them for $15-20 a lot of officers would pick up their own copy for convenience and study. That way you didn’t have to dig through or carry around the entire state code with stuff like tax laws and such that you would never need. There were also quick-reference pamphlets of traffic laws published that officers bought for $5-10 when you just needed a refresher of the code number and official name of the law when writing citations.

Sites like Justia do the same with the whole legal code digitally, financed by advertising and/or subscriptions. The suit specifically involved the states trying to copyright the material these sites were profiting from packaging and distributing in order to carve off some of the money the commercial ops were making, but it was (correctly IMHO) seen as improper because “the people” have already paid for the making and publication of those laws and putting (more) barriers to their access is wrong. States already have to bear the expense of initially packaging and distributing the laws by their own constitutional requirements so the commercial publishers were not “costing” the states extra, it was just a try for more revenue.

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