A recent ArsTechnica article reported the plight of public records advocate, Carl Malamud, who believes public access to the law is fundamental to our democracy. Malamud bought a hard copy of Georgia’s official state laws and an electronic version a few years back, and each set cost him over $1,200. Of note, LexisNexis sells a printed set of the law for under $400.00. Malamud then sent a USB drive of the laws to Georgia’s prominent lawyers and policymakers, including the Speaker of the House. In his accompanying letter, Malamud reminded the recipients that Georgia law is not copyrighted.

 

Unlawful Copyright Infringement

 The response to Malamud’s correspondence was a cease and desist letter from the chairman of Georgia’s Code Revision Commission. In the letter, Malamud was directed to access the state’s unannotated laws on its website. Malamud, who runs the not-for-profit Public.Resource.Org, has spent the past several years freeing up large amounts of public documents.

Georgia’s position was that there are two separate versions of the text:

  • The actual text of the law itself, available and free to the public on the state’s website and,
  • The annotations, which are copyrighted and owned by the state.

Unlike the former, annotations include additional references for the law such as court decisions. Of note, materials made by the federal government cannot be copyrighted, but a state can hold copyrights and state contractors can issue the copyrighted works.

In 2015, Public.Resource.Org was sued in federal court by Georgia’s Code Revision Commission. The court’s opinion, penned by U.S. District Judge Richard Story found in Georgia’s favor. Malamud is appealing the court’s decision.

 

Copyright Law Help

If you have questions about public records law or any other copyright issues, contact a knowledgeable Georgia intellectual property attorney today. There are several aspects of intellectual property including copyrights, trademarks, and service marks. Do not wait until you get a “cease and desist” letter. Understand what you can and cannot do under the appropriate state and federal laws.