Oregon: You Have To Pay Us To Explain The Laws To You

from the that-doesn't-seem-right dept

While all federal documents in the US are under the public domain, state governments don’t always follow that rule, and the state of Oregon has a history of trying to lock up its documents. Last year, there was some attention generated when some people uploaded copies of certain Oregon laws. Yes, it seems positively ridiculous that the state might claim copyright over the laws people are expected to follow. The state claimed that it was just complaining about the fact that the laws were scanned from its own book, with its own notes and page numbers — and that it wouldn’t complain if people had just copied the law. But that’s a weak excuse, and the state backed down later.

However, Oregon is back in the news on a similar issue, as Slashdot points us to the news that a professor is challenging the state’s attorney general to sue him after he scanned and posted a state-produced guide to using public-records laws. You would think, again, that the state would want such a document spread as widely as possible, as it would better help Oregonians understand the law. But the state claims it needs to sell the book for $25 to cover production costs. That doesn’t seem like much of an excuse. The fact that the state needs to produce a guide to understand its own laws seems troubling enough. Then locking them down with a copyright claim just makes it that much worse.

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Comments on “Oregon: You Have To Pay Us To Explain The Laws To You”

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Anonymous Coward says:

So if I cross the street using a crosswalk in Oregon is it legal or illegal? Do I have to buy some book to figure this out?

Pretty soon the state will start passing arbitrary laws (ie: don’t cross the street between 9:14 and 11:16 AM on Tuesdays but any other time is fine) and fining their citizens in order to encourage them to buy expensive books.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Now, it reminds me of the first Sesscio where the Roman plebians basically went on strike. (or in this case just left the City all together and went to make their own city) They were upset that they kept on being executed or punished for laws which they were actually forbidden to know. So in order to make them come back, the patricians offered to make a new set of laws for the plebians that they would be allowed to know. In fact, the laws were written in a sing-song poetic manner to allow illiterate plebians to memorize them. And ever since then, it has been a general rule that people have a right to know the laws which are applicable to them (Which is why you get Mirandized when you get arrested) until now in Oregon.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The ability to know the laws is a privilege, not a right. But obeying the law is mandatory.

Pretty soon it will be against the law to know the law but it will also be against the law to break the law. So either way you’re in trouble. If you obey the law you get in trouble for knowing the law since that’s against the law, but if you break the law you also get in trouble for breaking the law. So either way everyone is a criminal.

Unless the cop can go to your room and see that you have an unpirated state legal book in your room and these books get updated every year and they cost $250. and you can’t borrow it from your friend or resell them either.

Ben (profile) says:

Re: PrometheeFeu

Except in Oregon you have to pay a copyright fee to listen to the Miranda Rights while being arrested, even if innocent. lol

Seriously though, this is a good point. If you do not know the law or how it is applicable, how can you follow it? Not being aware of a law is not accepted an excuse in court. Citizens pay taxes. There they have covered royalty. This is completely bogus.

peter (profile) says:

there's no copyright in documents produced by govt. employees in the course of their duties

At least the state AG said he’d have to review his policy. He’ll come back and conclude that the state can’t assert a copyright in the documents. It’s really clear:

see http://tiny.cc/8CL3S

What drives me crazy is reputedly intelligent law professors like Eugene Volokh posting on this point without giving any real thought to it, much less doing any research, and suggesting that there might be room to argue that state documents other than court decisions MIGHT be entitled to copyright protection.

(http://www.volokh.com/posts/1253220102.shtml) the worst kind of law professor (as opposed to lawyer) behavior — stretching impractical thoughts and irrelevant distinctions into something they tout as potentially having legal significance.

If I start spouting opinions without any persuasive reasoning or authority, please let me know.

Dan says:

Who owns them?

I guess the public needs to sue any and all public employees, claiming copyrights to state produced docs, for wages and benefits paid them for producing said docs plus interest. Then they should lose employee status and be classified as subcontractors forced to bid in open competition subject to specification. This of course would include elected officials and judges.

b4upoo (profile) says:

Re: Who owns them?

As proof of our insanity some of us are untouchable due a concept called sovereign immunity which we are supposed to balance in our minds with the concept of legal equality.
Stuff like this is an explanation for Michael Jackson whacking his nose off while wearing one white glove while plotting to molest another little boy. It’s a sicko paradise!

Reverend Draco (profile) says:

If the state will not write the laws so its citizens can understand them

If the state will not write the laws so its citizens can understand them, only the state should be bound by them. . . It’s completely ludicrous to expect someone to comply with a law they can’t understand. If a law cannot be written in plain language, in such a way that ANYONE with a high school education can understand the law in its entirety, it is a law that is 100% un-necessary, most likely counterproductive, and certainly has a loophole allowing specific groups to avoid following it.
Screw ’em.

Tommy Jefferson says:

Monopoly on Violence

The “government” is nothing more that one group of individuals who claim a monopoly on the use of violence in a geographic area, similar to the mafia.

Two hundred years from now people will look back with amused scorn upon “government” as an archaic and vile institution just as plantation slavery is viewed today.

J. Mitchell says:

confusing but enforceable

“It’s completely ludicrous to expect someone to comply with a law they can’t understand.”

Not really. That’s the nature of laws written in human language, rather than some type of pure math. People run afoul of the law because they didn’t “understand” a particular law all the time. Have you ever browsed your state’s code of statutes? Understand it much? Not me. Not even highly paid law teams of major corporations always “understand” the law before they do things. Think Microsoft *tried* to get itself slapped with antitrust violations? More often than not, they interpret the language a different way than a prosecutor, and then the court or the jury agrees when brought to trial. It’s all a matter of opinion anyway – these aren’t the laws of $deity.

If you don’t understand a law, in a lot of situations there’s no way to know whether what you’re doing is “against” it or not. You can pay a lawyer, and he’ll gladly take your money, but all they can offer is their opinion, with a “if I’m wrong, it’s not my fault, just my repuations”. The judge/jury might not agree, and then you’re fucked.

TRX (profile) says:

> While all federal documents in the US are under the public domain

I don’t know your definition of “federal documents”, but Congress asserts copyright on the Congressional Record, and the US Government Printing Office asserts copyright on all sorts of public documents.

Not only that, the Fed often incorporates private documents into law. For example, much automotive safety law simply references copyrighted (and expensive) publications of the Society of Automotive Engineers, and you have to purchase those documents to make sense of the publicly-available part. I believe this is common through many industries.

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