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.

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

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Cecil Thompson says:

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.

Is it Doe or Doh? says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:


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.

intellectual integrity says:

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”

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Richard (profile) says:

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.

Almost Anonymous (profile) says:

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.

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