It should probably go without saying that you should always obey the law. You know – so as to avoid fines, a criminal record and jail time. Preferably, you will live a full life never having to encounter the wrong side of the law. So, naturally it’s important you know all about the laws in your state. If you live in the state of Georgia, however, it may cost you a pretty penny to know what the laws are.
So says Joe Mullin on ArsTechnica.com, at least. In one of the more peculiar, yet fascinating articles we’ve come across in recent weeks, his piece explains that Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.org had to pay north of $1,200 to get his hands on a hard copy of Georgia’s state laws. And although LexisNexis, which is a private company that decides what goes into the official version of the law of the state of Georgia, charges residents “only” $385.94 for prints of the state laws, Malamud believes that reading the law should be free of charge.
We’d have to agree. After all, isn’t it to the benefit of all Americans to have open access to the laws that they are expected to follow? It sounds pretty bizarre to have to come out of pocket – and at such a high price, to boot – to get a copy of any state’s official laws. But the oddness of this story doesn’t end there.
To proclaim his displeasure, four years ago, Malamud sent USB drives containing what is known as the “Official Code of Georgia Annotated, or OCGA” to the Georgia speaker of the House, David Ralson, the state’s legislative counsel and other important lawyers and policymakers in the state. His objective? To firmly state his opinion that access to the law should be a right for all. He even went so far as to adorn his envelopes with images of peaches complete with the bold statement: “UNIMPEACHABLE!”
The recipients of his packages were not amused. The chairman of Georgia’s Code Revision Commission, Josh McKoon was one of them. He was quick to send Malamud a stern reply. “Your unlawful copying…infringes on the exclusive copyright of the state of Georgia,” he wrote, “Accordingly, you are hereby notified to CEASE AND DESIST ALL COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT.”
Malamud was also threatened with an infringement lawsuit if he didn’t immediately stop copying the laws and making them available on his website. The problem the state had with Malamud’s actions, we should point out, is that the annotations contained within the text of the laws were copyrighted and owned by the state. The “value-added material” (McKoon’s words) was created by LexisNexis and therefore, subject to copyright.
Nonsense, according to Malamud – the OCGA is the only official copy of Georgia’s laws that its citizens are able to read. “Any lawyer would ignore this publication and any of its components at his or her peril,” he wrote in response, “No matter how you slice that cheese, it all looks the same. The Official Code of Georgia Annotated, every component of it, is the official law…Our publication of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated should be encouraged, not threatened.”
Unfortunately, U.S. District Judge, Richard Story didn’t agree with Malamud. In July 2015, Georgia’s Code Revision Commission sued Public.Resource.Org in federal court and won based on the fact that annotated codes are entitled to copyright. As a result, Georgia’s laws have been removed from the site. In its place is the following notification:
“Your access to this document, which is a law of the United States of America, has been temporarily disabled while we fight for your right to read and speak the laws by which we choose to govern ourselves as a democratic society. To apply for a license to read this law, please consult the Code of Federal Regulations or applicable state laws and regulations for the name and address of a vendor…Thank you for your interest in reading the law.”
When reading Mullin’s article, we couldn’t help but think of one question. How ironic is it that, in Georgia, it’s against the law to inform people of what the law is? Thank you for your interest in reading this blog!