You know what would be terrible? If the laws of Georgia were publicly available for free, online. Worse still, would be if this freely available copy was in an easy to search format and made more accessible to people who are visually impaired.
At least, that’s what a lawsuit against Carl Malamud and his nonprofit Public.Resource.org from the State of Georgia, implies.
Malamud, a public domain advocate, put copies of the annotated laws of Georgia on his website Public.Resource.org, as part of a campaign to make sure federal and state laws are actually available in an accessible format to the public. The State of Georgia is suing.
The lawsuit, which claims Malamud’s actions are causing “severe and irreparable harm” and are part of a “strategy of terrorism,” describes the act of making Georgia’s annotated code publicly available in disturbing detail:
“Defendant further presented copies of the O.C.G.A. including copyrighted annotations on at least one Internet website…that attracts citizens from Georgia as viewers and actively encourages all such individuals to copy, use, and disseminate to others in Georgia and elsewhere, and to create derivative works of the O.C.G.A.”
Yes, Georgia citizens are being actively encouraged to view, use and disseminate the laws that govern us! With the help of an internet website, no less.
It gets worse.
Malamud put copies of the annotated code on thumb drives and mailed them to members of the State Legislature.
In an accompanying letter to Speaker of the House David Ralston, Malamud describes a desire to “promote access to the law,” and ensure that all Georgians, “have ready access to the laws that govern them,” citing legal opinions that reaffirm how important access to law is, and that that material should not be copyrightable.
This act is also covered in the lawsuit.
“Defendant [Malamud] deliberately and willfully distributed USB thumb drives containing scanned copies of Plaintiff’s Copyrighted Annotations to members of the State of Georgia Legislature.”
Lord, protect us from this travesty.
All Georgians with an internet connection can access this cumbersome interface to read the Georgia Code in it’s most basic form. But, the much more helpful annotated version, is only available from LexisNexis for $378. This version includes additional information about how the law has been interpreted by the Attorney General and in various legal decisions. In other words, it provides important context about how the law has actually been interpreted and enforced, and not just the statutory language.
On Tuesday, Malamud filed to have the lawsuit dismissed, saying:
“The law belongs to the people. The O.C.G.A., including its annotations, is Georgia’s only official Code. No claim of copyright can or should be used to prohibit its distribution. Making the O.C.G.A. free, available and useable to all allows everyone, whether he or she is a lawyer or layperson, journalist, teacher or student, part of a nonprofit charitable entity or a multinational corporation, or merely a concerned citizen—everyone—to better understand, use, and comply with the law.”
The State of Georgia’s lawsuit perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you’ve ever been under the Gold Dome, you know the transparency and accessibility of Georgia’s laws and lawmaking process is pretty awful.
Unfortunately, transparency and accessibility will continue to be non-priorities of the State of Georgia, and this legal battle is going to continue.