California: We Charge People To Read Our Laws For The Benefit Of Californians
from the sign-of-the-times dept
Back in April, we wrote about how the state of Oregon was threatening Carl Malamud, an activist who has been working hard for years to get public content more widely available to people online, for daring to publish Oregon’s laws online. The state claimed copyright, not over the laws, but over the presentation of the laws, which Malamud had scanned. After the public outcry over this, Oregon backed down, and Malamud has continued his efforts. A bunch of folks have been submitting this Santa Rosa Press Democrat story all about Malamud’s efforts, with a specific focus on California — which similarly claims copyright on the presentation of its laws and standards.
California’s defense of trying to limit such a display of the laws seems pretty ridiculous:
“We exercise our copyright to benefit the people of California,” said Linda Brown, deputy director of the Office of Administrative Law, which manages the state’s laws. “We are obtaining compensation for the people of California.”
In other words, we hide the laws you have to obey from you in order to get more money into the state’s coffers. That hardly seems like a reasonable rationale for the efforts. Hell, based on that rationale, wouldn’t it make sense not to post any speed limit signs? After all, all the speeding tickets from ignorant drivers would help “obtain compensation for the people of California.” Besides, as we all should know, the purpose of copyright isn’t to “obtain compensation for the people of California” but to encourage the creation of new works. Is copyrighting the presentation of laws helping to create new… laws? That doesn’t seem right.
In the meantime, Malamud is just going to keep posting the laws and making them easier than ever for people to actually know what laws they’re probably breaking all the time. It sounds as though he’s hoping someone will actually take him to court over this, as he’s confident that a court would rule in his favor, finally setting an important precedent. Here’s hoping that’s true. Unfortunately, we’ve seen too many bad legal rulings on similar issues to feel that comfortable with simply letting a court set the precedent.