The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that legal research company Fastcase can bring a copyright lawsuit against its rival, Casemaker. Casemaker has claimed control over the state of Georgia’s administrative regulations. The Atlanta-based Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month on the matter.
The Court of Appeals’ Decision
The appeal originated from two prior lawsuits brought by Fastcase against Casemaker that were unsuccessful. Both of the prior cases were dismissed. The unanimous panel of judges for the 11th Circuit found that the most recent case, which was filed in February 2017, was wrongly dismissed by the lower court. The U.S. District court dismissed the February 2017 case, without prejudice, for lack of jurisdiction ruling the claims did not present a cause of action under federal law and also did not meet the $75,000 amount in controversy requirement. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed on both issues and found there was jurisdiction, remanding the case back to the district court.
Remand to the District Court
Now, with this procedural win, Fastcase can go back to the district court and have the case heard and decided on its merits. The district court will decide whether a private company, Casemaker, can claim copyrights to public law. At issue in the case is an agreement that Casemaker entered into with Georgia’s secretary of state. The agreement gives Casemaker exclusive publishing rights to the state’s regulations. Beyond publishing rights, however, the agreement also gives Casemaker the ability to license the content (i.e., state regulations) to others for a fee.
The decision comes right after another, separate, recent 11th Circuit ruling that held Georgia’s official annotated state code is not copyrightable. The Court of Appeals ruled that the law belongs in the public domain. In that case, the 11th Circuit unanimously reversed an Atlanta federal judge’s ruling that open law advocate Carl Malamud violated copyright law by putting up a free version of Georgia’s annotated state code on his website, PublicResoruce.Org, according to an ABA Journal article. In its ruling, the Court of Appeals held the annotations carry the weight of the law. Historically, law and annotations have had clear distinctions under the law. Law is not copyrightable because it belongs to the public while annotations can be, if created by private party. In the PublicResource case, the line was more blurred because the annotations in Georgia’s state code were prepared by LexisNexis but considered part of the official code.