One Simple Copyright Reform Idea: Government Edicts Should Never Be Subject To Copyright

from the should-be-a-no-brainer dept

With copyright reform back on the table, there are bound to be more and more discussions and various ideas suggested. But here’s one that we hope is a no brainer for everyone. Carl Malamud, who has worked on making more public information available to the public than anyone else (and, yes, it’s crazy that he needs to do this), has famously highlighted many cases of governments locking up key information that the public ought to have, including official copies of laws, judicial rulings and the standards that are referenced by various laws. So he has now proposed — with the support of a bunch of big thinkers in this arena — a simple proposal for one specific type of copyright reform: The Edicts of Government Amendment. The idea is simple:

To promote access to justice, equal protection, innovation in the legal marketplace, and to codify long-standing public policy, the Copyright Act of the United States, 17 U.S.C., should be amended as follows:

“Edicts of government, such as judicial opinions, administrative rulings, legislative enactments, public ordinances, and similar official legal documents are not copyrightable for reasons of public policy. This applies to such works whether they are Federal, State, or local as well as to those of foreign governments.”

This language comes directly from Section 206.01, Compendium of Office Practices II, U.S. Copyright Office (1984). It reflects clear and established Supreme Court precedent on the matter in cases such as Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591 (1834) and Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244 (1888). The law belongs to the people, who should be free to read, know, and speak the laws by which they choose to govern themselves.

Such a basic concept, I’m wondering if there’s anyone who will present a counter argument for why this shouldn’t be done today.

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Comments on “One Simple Copyright Reform Idea: Government Edicts Should Never Be Subject To Copyright”

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average_joe (profile) says:

Such a basic concept, I’m wondering if there’s anyone who will present a counter argument for why this shouldn’t be done today.

Sure. We talked about one scenario a few months ago:

If someone has a copyrighted work and an administrative agency adopts it as a standard by reference, that doesn’t thrust the work into the public domain.

My post in that thread:

Now you go.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s different than a government edict. The government isn’t publishing the material, merely accepting it as the standard. It wouldn’t become public domain or controlled by the government.

At the same time, there’s no reason the government couldn’t purchase the copyright of privately held works and make it public domain as a way of setting standards.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Edict makes me think of Roman Law:

But I think in general it means a proclamation of law. I’d say that administrative law is a governmental edict. Besides, Malamud is the same person that was the subject of that article. By the way, I checked on PACER and he won that case against the Sheet Metal folks–they never responded to the lawsuit so they defaulted just last week.

out_of_the_blue says:

Are YOU for this, Mike? Cause, this sounds like a HOPE:

“Such a basic concept, I’m wondering if there’s anyone who will present a counter argument for why this shouldn’t be done today.”

Or are you after fifteen years nailed down on these two points?
1) Copyright system is broken.
2) Government Edicts Should Never Be Subject To Copyright.

It’s both serious and sarcastic question. The reason (to justify my snark to any newbies) is your prior pusillanimity here:

I think that the current system is broken and does not promote the progress,as it should do. I think that I don’t know what the *proper* solution is, andI don’t think anyone does, because we simply don’t have enough data orexperience to know. We know what doesn’t work, but we don’t know what mightwork better. That’s why I’ve always encouraged more exploration and theability to experiment.

This will upset you, of course, because it’s not a hard and fast position of”copyright must be x.”

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