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Publishing the Laws is Against the Law

David Post , commenting on the State of Oregon’s rather perverse filing of copyright infringement notices on several websites that published the Oregon Revised Statutes,

What burns me up is that the State of Oregon would choose to assert its rather fanciful copyright claim for the purpose of making public access to the authoritative version of its laws more, rather than less, difficult. It is completely outrageous that in 2008 we do not have a complete and authoritative compendium of all of the laws of the 50 States, and the federal government, available at no cost on the net.

He incidentally doesn’t think Oregon has a very strong copyright claim, either.

There’s an old dictum that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” It would seem that there’s a strong incentive at work to keep people ignorant.

UPDATE (Alex Knapp): I can’t comment on the merits of Oregon’s position, as I haven’t had a chance to read the full facts of the case. However, I can definitively say that this statement is crap:

It is completely outrageous that in 2008 we do not have a complete and authoritative compendium of all of the laws of the 50 States, and the federal government, available at no cost on the net.

You can find this in several places, one of which is here. It’s also worth noting that all 50 states publish their codes on the web for free, as do most municipalities.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Beldar says:

    Traditionally, as with the printing of other law books, the franchise for printing state statutes (and their associated annotations and updates) has been a lucrative one. My very strong hunch is that someone’s protecting an entrenched financial interest in the status quo, specifically ante internet.

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  2. floyd says:

    There’s a certain irony at work here. If the people paid to produce the copyrighted material they should have free access to it!
    This reminds me of some of the signs posted around Illinois…
    “public property, no trespassing” [lol]

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  3. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Orygun is noted for its liberal politics. That is what happens when a nearby state is Californicated.

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  4. Michael says:

    How can state laws _not_ be public domain?

    Even if they’re not, floyd points out that they were paid for by Oregon tax payers, wouldn’t that at least make them “works for hire”?

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  5. PD Shaw says:

    It’s not “the law” over which a copyright is being claimed, its the annotations, notes, indexes, tables, explanations. The letter says that licensing these elements is what pays for their production. Questions: How much does licensing these elements cost and how much benefit do they have for the public at large?

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  6. PD Shaw says:

    I notice the State of Oregon’s website says: “Although efforts have been made to match the database text to the official legal text they represent, substantive errors or differences may remain. It is the user’s responsibility to verify the legal accuracy of all legal text.”

    Maybe this is what David Post means by the lack of authoritataive law on the net.

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  7. jpe says:

    Findlaw links to statutes on the state sites, and those are hit or miss. Some states have well designed statutes that are easy to navigate, and others are like pulling teeth.

    Online state codes should be uniformly user friendly. They’re not.

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