From The Register:

The State of Georgia in the US is suing the owner of the website for publishing the State of Georgia’s own laws online.

According to the lawsuit [PDF] filed this week, Carl Malamud has “engaged in an 18 year long crusade to control the accessibility of U.S. government documents by becoming the United States’ Public Printer.”

Although an alternative reading could be that he was simply publishing public laws on the internet.

At the center of the issue is not Georgia’s basic legal code – that is made readily available online and off – but the annotated version of it. That annotated version is frequently used by the courts to make decisions of law, and as such Malamud decided it should also be made easily accessible online.

Georgia says that information is copyrighted, however, and it wants him to stop publishing it. Currently you can access the information through legal publisher Lexis Nexis, either by paying $378 for a printed copy or by going through an unusual series of online steps from Georgia’s General Assembly websitethrough to Lexis Nexis’ relevant webpages (going direct to the relevant Lexis Nexis webpages will give you a blank page).

“Annotated version is frequently used by the courts to make decisions of law”

Malamud argues that the law should not be subject to any form of copyright provisions and has previously put forward a legal argument that presumably he will offer in response to the lawsuit.

“It is a long-held tenet of American law that there is no copyright in the law. This is because the law belongs to the people and in our system of democracy we have the right to read, know, and speak the laws by which we choose to govern ourselves. Requiring a license before allowing citizens to read or speak the law would be a violation of deeply-held principles in our system that the laws apply equally to all.”

He then quotes some supreme court decisions in support of his view.

One issue may be that, as well as posting the text of the law in an XML format, Malamud has scanned the printed version of the code and then posted it as a downloadable PDF on his website.

However, the State of Georgia filing points to a little more animus than concerns over scanned documents. In particular it uses a quote of Malamud’s from an article in 2009 in which he talked about committing “standards terrorism” to actually accuse Malamud of committing a form of terrorism. “Consistent with its strategy of terrorism, Defendant freely admits to the copying and distribution of massive numbers of Plaintiff’s Copyrighted Annotations,” reads the lawsuit in part.

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