Georgia Seeks to Block|Web Publication of Laws

     SAVANNAH, Ga. (CN) – Georgia sued U.S. technologist and public domain advocate Carl Malamud, for making the entire body of its state laws available on his website Public.Resource.org.
     In a complaint filed July 27 in Atlanta Federal Court, the state seeks a court order forcing Malamud to stop making the code available online free of charge, as the State of Georgia charges for the annotated version through Lexus Nexus.
     Georgia’s code is available to the public free of charge, but with terms of use and without the annotations. The state claims the annotations available through Lexus Nexus are copyrighted, and therefore, Malamud’s activities are nothing short of Internet piracy.
     However, Malamud told Courthouse News that “The code, including the annotations, belongs to the people.”
     “If the Attorney General wrote a haiku in the body of Georgia state law, that too would belong to the people,” he said.
     The battle between the State of Georgia and Malamud has been ongoing since 2013 when Malamud first sent thumb drives with the annotated law to the House of Representatives.
     Malamud holds that the government should not charge its people for laws that constitutionally belong to them.
     “It goes back to Magna Carta … it’s a longstanding principle. It’s fundamental to the way our democracy works,” he told Courthouse News. “However, there’s a large part of federal and state law that isn’t readily available to the public and costs money to access.”
     Malamud cited the U.S. Supreme Court case Banks v. Manchester (128 U.S. 244, 1888) to reaffirm his position in a May 30, 2013, letter to the Georgia House of Representatives.
     “[T]he authentic exposition and interpretation of the law, which, binding every citizen, is free for publication to all, whether it is a declaration of unwritten law, or an interpretation of a constitution or a statute,” the latter stated in part.
     In the same letter Malamud stated, “Our purpose in making these statutes available is to promote access to the law by citizens and to promote innovation in ways the statutes are made available so that public servants, members of the bar, citizens, and members of the business community have ready access to the laws that govern them” and that “access to the law is a fundamental aspect of our system of democracy, an essential element of due process, equal protection, and access to justice.”
     In a second letter, dated July 30, 2013, Malamud statesd “This principle was strongly set out by the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Marshall when they stated ‘the Court is unanimously of opinion that no reporter has or can have any copyright in the written opinions delivered by this Court, and that the judges thereof cannot confer on any reporter any such right’ [Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591 (1834)].”
     In its lawsuit, the State of Georgia claims that if Malamud is not stopped, it will either be required to stop publishing the annotations altogether, or will have to pay for the development of the annotations using state tax dollars.
     Malamud called this claim “petulant.”
     He told Courthouse News that he believes that when states drop their positions on copyrighting the laws, there is room to create a vastly better code.
     “It’s an innovation issue as much as it is a democracy issue.” He said. “The issue here is not the right to read the law, but to speak the law, in order to inform your fellow citizens.”

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