Liberian Laws Are A Secret Due To Copyright; Even The Gov't Doesn't Have Them

from the you-can't-have-them dept

We've seen a few ridiculous cases whereby local governments claim copyright on a law, but it's still stunning to see what's going on in Liberia. Tom sends in the news that no one knows what the law covers in Liberia, because one man, leading a small group of lawyers, claims to hold the copyright on the laws of the country and won't share them unless people (or, rather, the government of Liberia) is willing to pay. Oh, and did we mention that the US government paid for some of this?

The story is a bit convoluted, but apparently, Liberia hasn't really had a full copy of its laws, as they were mixed and matched in "incomplete sets" throughout different libraries. A professor at Cornell had begun a (free) project to compile the country's laws, but after he died, a group of lawyers in Liberia took over the project -- and were given $400,000 by the US Justice Department. The lawyers then "numbered, bound, and indexed" all of the recent laws, and claim that because of that, they now own the copyright on it.

While perhaps copyright law is different in Liberia, most places have rejected "sweat of the brow" arguments for copyright. If you didn't create the actual content, you're not supposed to get the copyright. You don't get a copyright just for compiling the work of others without adding anything new. If this lawyer wanted to get paid for the work, he should have negotiated that upfront. Instead, he's holding the country's laws hostage, and asking for $150,000 to $360,000 to turn them over to the government.

What's really amazing is that this guy is currently serving as Liberia's justice minister. The work he did on the laws happened before that, and he claims that he'd give up the laws for free, but that the other lawyers he worked with will not.

Perhaps Liberia should just start from scratch and create all new laws, wiping out the value of these particular locked up laws.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2009 @ 7:41pm

    Patent

    The method and process of creating new laws has been patented.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2009 @ 7:44pm

    Now taking bets...

    How many more posts will Mike Rub out before he starts his weekend?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Cecil Thompson, Nov 20th, 2009 @ 7:53pm

    Re: Now taking bets...

    Well, we're at 17 stories for today alone, when typical weekday is somewhere around 10 stories. Based on the number of coffee cans I found in his garbage a few weeks ago, I'd say he drinks 8-9 pots of coffee every day, or about 30 shots of espresso. (Mildly roasted blend nonetheless--most caffeine)

    So he may crank out a few more stories, OR maybe he'll go clean his bathroom. But because I can't smell bleach through the computer, we'll just have to wait.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Poster, Nov 20th, 2009 @ 7:57pm

    Re: Patent

    The method and process of thinking up laws has been patented.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2009 @ 8:28pm

    Librarians have laws!?!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    Is it Doe or Doh?, Nov 20th, 2009 @ 8:28pm

    I have an answer

    Since the country had a semi successful coup with 100 men I am sure a couple guys could drive over to this guys house and "convince" him and his associates to hand over the laws. And if they didn't, they could rough him up a little bit. Of course if charges were pressed against the "thugs", they would need to make sure laws were broken but we don't exactly know what the laws are now do we? Here's an idea, had over the laws and nobody gets hurt.. douche bag.

    Thanks for the opportunity to wiki Liberia and get a social studies lesson.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2009 @ 8:32pm

    Since it is generally understood that Liberia's copyright laws, no matter what they may say, are paid little heed, this claim to rights appears to be little more than a claim for "swamp land" having no intrinsic value.

    Liberia is unique because of its historical ties to the United States. Apparently our system of laws was not exported to Liberia when it was first created.

     

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  8.  
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    Cyanid Pontifex (profile), Nov 20th, 2009 @ 8:54pm

    Simple: write a new law stating that anyone who attempts to claim copyright over the national laws will be put to death.

     

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  9.  
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    Robert Ring (profile), Nov 20th, 2009 @ 9:06pm

    On a possible bright side, maybe -- just maybe -- this will teach them why allowing copyrights on laws is a bad idea.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2009 @ 9:18pm

    Unenforceable

    For extra entertainment value, the claim of copyright over laws logically defeats itself.

    Because the government doesn't have access to its laws, it is unable to verify the claim of copyright against the legal system of Liberia.

    In the absence of any copyright law that can be verified and enforced by the government, there is no copyright. In order to establish the existence of the claimed copyright under law, the claimant would have to first hand over the law.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 20th, 2009 @ 9:32pm

    does this sound like the CIA is trying topple another government to anyone else?

     

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  12.  
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    Mojo Bone (profile), Nov 20th, 2009 @ 9:34pm

    Unenforceable Is Correct

    Furthermore, I hereby declare Liberia a failed state and myself their King.

     

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  13.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Nov 20th, 2009 @ 10:17pm

    The MPAA-RIAA look to this and

    They have had multiple orgasms thinking about doing the same in the US.

     

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  14.  
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    Tony Orbell, Nov 21st, 2009 @ 3:37am

    Liberian Laws

    Surely the copyright only extends to the original content of the new documents produced. It seems to me that the bulk of the content must effectively be quotes from external sources. This then begs the question. who did this group of lawyers pay for the "exclusive rights"

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2009 @ 6:26am

    Depends on the law...

    I work for a US company that runs the ship and corporate registry for the Government of Liberia. We actually wrote their Maritime and Corporate law. And that information is available freely online.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2009 @ 7:10am

    I have an idea, the government of Liberia should just execute these lawyers, and take back the publicly owned goods.

     

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  17.  
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    Aaron Martin-Colby (profile), Nov 21st, 2009 @ 8:01am

    Re:

    Ha! That was a lot funnier for me than it probably should have been.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    intellectual integrity, Nov 21st, 2009 @ 8:17am

    intellectual integrity

    noting ethical here
    nothing that requires brain use
    so no intellectual integrity involved

    yes folks intellectual integrity requires the use of your mind not the control , capitalization and greed and abuse of the mind. Somehting none of this is about. YOU MAKE laws for the people then what? YOU HIDE them ....WTF
    so we all can be criminals !!!

    JOIN the gangs now you will all need ...friends
    "escape from LA style"

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Dustin, Nov 21st, 2009 @ 9:13am

    So what, exactly, is preventing the government from stomping all over these lawyers? One side has guns and sovereignty, the other has legal memo pads and a book of "laws" that only they know. The solution seems obvious.

     

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  20.  
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    Richard (profile), Nov 21st, 2009 @ 10:55am

    This is actually a bit different

    Hang on - this isn't the usual abuse of copyright.

    Think of this like the garage holding on to your car until you pay for the repairs and it doesn't seem so bad.

    Remember, this guy only wants to be paid once for the work he did - not every time someone copies the laws in future.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2009 @ 11:46am

    Re: This is actually a bit different

    "Think of this like the garage holding on to your car until you pay for the repairs and it doesn't seem so bad."

    Yeah, except it's not a car repair, it's more like cleaning your car and then charging you for a new car. And oh by the way, the "mechanic" has been on your salary while doing the work. So I don't think your analogy is very fitting.

    It's just a money grab.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Richard (profile), Nov 21st, 2009 @ 2:56pm

    Re: Re: This is actually a bit different

    It's not clear to me from the original article that they were paid for the later part of the work.

    The size of the funding from the US DoJ suggests that the amount they are asking for is not unreasonable if (and it's a big if) they weren't paid for the latter half of the work.

     

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  23.  
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    RicoMon35 (profile), Nov 21st, 2009 @ 6:07pm

    Re: Unenforceable

    Ad Nauseam for sure!

     

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  24.  
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    RicoMon35 (profile), Nov 21st, 2009 @ 6:09pm

    Re:

    No. They aren't involved.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    RicoMon35 (profile), Nov 21st, 2009 @ 6:11pm

    Re: Liberian Laws

    They paid no one. the US piad THEM $400,000.00 to take the compilation job.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    RicoMon35 (profile), Nov 21st, 2009 @ 6:14pm

    Re:

    The lead lawyer involved is currently serving as Liberia's justice minister. That kinda puts a damper on retribution eh?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    RicoMon35 (profile), Nov 21st, 2009 @ 6:16pm

    Re: This is actually a bit different

    He and his firm did. USA paid them $4000,00.00
    Read the article again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    RicoMon35 (profile), Nov 21st, 2009 @ 6:17pm

    Re: Re: This is actually a bit different

    OOps, I meant, $400,000.00. :

     

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  29.  
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    hrrrrm, Nov 21st, 2009 @ 10:42pm

    WHERE is liberia

    ya like WHO CARES

     

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  30.  
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    Mojo Bone (profile), Nov 22nd, 2009 @ 1:29am

    I do. After all, I'm King of Liberia, as far as we know...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Lamorak, Nov 22nd, 2009 @ 4:32am

    Re: CIA Plot

    No - it does not look like a CIA plot to the rest of us. You're just paranoid.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    NullOp, Nov 22nd, 2009 @ 5:53am

    Well...

    I am going to stop saying "This is the dumbest sh&t I ever heard of" because something always comes along that is way dumber.

    At this point, lawyers need to be re-educated and made to do something useful...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2009 @ 11:01am

    I was under the impression that Copyright can't apply to things like rules or laws, because they are not creative works, per se, but rather are required components for the proper functioning of some other system that utilizes them as a collection.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    (none), Nov 22nd, 2009 @ 11:05am

    Re: I have an answer

    If the laws belong to these lawyers only, the rest of the community doesnt really have to obey them.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Richard (profile), Nov 22nd, 2009 @ 12:01pm

    Re: Re: Re: This is actually a bit different

    "Banks says the DoJ funding wasn't enough to cover his costs. So when DoJ declined to give him more, he asserted a claim of copyright on the work,"

    This is basically a dispute over a contract to do some work.

    Banks is simply using copyright as a tool to get paid (just once).

    He's not claiming copyright on the laws themselves - just on his "organised version". (He says that the Liberian Government can go back to the old scrappy versions he used as input).

    This sort of situation arises quite commonly (I've been in it myself). Here is another example: You do some work (such as writing a program) for a company, company goes bust without paying you.

    Another company buys out the assets of the first company and attempts to use your work without paying. You have to sue for copyright infringement to get paid.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
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    Call me Al, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 1:52am

    I've actually got tears in my eyes from laughing so much. How utterly ridiculous this is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
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    Anon, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 2:20am

    Clarification

    The lead lawyer is the FORMER Justice Minister, not the current one. There is more comprehensive coverage of this issue here:

    http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/11/12/hes_got_the_law_literally_in_his_hands

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 3:59am

    Re: Clarification

    The lead lawyer is the FORMER Justice Minister, not the current one. There is more comprehensive coverage of this issue here:

    Um, that link is what this entire post was based on, and it seems to indicate he is currently the justice minister. is there more info saying he is not?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    Overcast (profile), Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 6:57am

    Sad thing is - how much 'closer' each day the 'western world' gets to this.

     

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  40.  
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    Boston Bankruptcy Lawyer, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 8:30am

    Amazing

    I can't believe that an entire set of laws is being held hostage.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    nasch (profile), Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 9:25am

    Re: Re:

    The military is probably not controlled by the ministry of justice. If all they want is to show up with some guns and ask for the books (after all, who's to say if subtly menacing actions are even illegal in Liberia?) the army should do fine.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 9:35am

    Re: swamps

    thats an interesting analogy since swamp lands have a lot of intrinsic value

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
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    Almost Anonymous (profile), Nov 23rd, 2009 @ 9:59am

    Copyrighting laws is full of win!

    Open scene:

    Cop: Hey you, you're breaking copyright law!

    Man: Oh, jeez, I didn't know; can I see the law?

    Cop: Ignorance of the law is no excuse! You're under arrest. And yes, you can see the law but we have to charge you a licensing fee. If you can't afford the fee, you can't see the law.

    Man: You want to charge me money to see the law by which you're arresting me, for a crime I was unaware of?

    Cop: Yes.

    Man: Crap.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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