Norwegian Court Orders Website Of Public Domain Court Decisions Shut Down With No Due Process
from the this-is-messed-up dept
What’s up Europe? We’ve been talking a lot about insanity around the new copyright directive, but the EU already has some pretty messed up copyright/related rights laws on the books that are creating absurd situations. The following is one of them. One area where US and EU laws differ is on the concept of the “database right.” The US does not grant a separate copyright on a collection of facts. The EU does. Studies have shown how this is horrible idea, and if you compare certain database-driven industries in the US and the EU, you discover how much damage database rights do to innovation, competition and the public. But, alas, they still exist. And they continue to be used in positively insane ways.
Enter Hakon Wium Lie. You might know him as basically the father of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Or the former CTO of the Opera browser. Or maybe even as the founder of the Pirate Party in Norway. Either way, he’s been around a while in this space, and knows what he’s talking about. Via Boing Boing we learn that: (1) Wium Lie has been sued for a completely absurd reason of (2) helping a site publish public domain court rulings that (3) are not even protected by a database right and (4) the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff (5) in 24 hours (6) before Lie could respond and (7) ordered him to pay the legal fees of the other side.
I’ve numbered these because I had to break out each absurd part separately just to start to try to comprehend just how ridiculous the whole thing is. And now, let’s go through how each part is absurd in turn:
1. Wium Lie is being sued as an accomplice to the site rettspraksis.no by an operation called Lovdata. Wium Lie tells the entire history in his post, but way back in the early days of the web, while he was helping to create CSS, Wium Lie also helped put Norway’s (public domain) laws online. At the time, that same company, Lovdata, was charging people $1-per-minute to access the laws. Really. Eventually, Lovdata dropped the fees and is the official free publishers of the laws in Norway. Of course, statutory law is just one part of “the law.” Case law is also quite important and (thankfully) court orders (that make up the bulk of case law) are also in the public domain in Norway. However, Lovdata charges an absurd $1,500 per year to access those decisions. And, it claims a database right* on the collection it makes available online.
2. And yet, Wium Lie is still being sued. Why? When he saw that the website rettspraksis.no was trying to collect and publish these decisions, he borrowed Lovdata CD-ROMs from the National Library in Oslo. He borrowed the 2002 version of the CD-ROM. This date is important, because the EU’s database rights last for… 15 years. 2002 databases (and, yes, Wium Lie points out that it’s odd to call a stack of documents a database…) are no longer protected by the database rights.
3. So, yeah, the data is clearly in the public domain, and Wium Lie didn’t violate anyone’s copyright or database rights. Wium Lie notes that Lovdata didn’t even try to contact him or rettspraksis.no before suing, but just told the court that they must be scraping the expensive online database:
I’m very surprised that Lovdata didn’t contact us to ask us where we had copied the court decisions from. In the lawsuit, they speculate that we have siphoned their servers by using automated ?crawlers?. And, since their surveillance systems for detecting siphoning were not triggered, our crawlers must have been running for a very long time, in breach of the database directive. The correct answer is that we copied the court decisions from the old discs I found in the National Library. We would have told them this immediately if they had simply asked.
4. This is the most perplexing to me in all of this. I can’t read the Norwegian verdict (which, for Lovdata’s lawyers, I did not get from scraping your site!), and don’t know enough about Norwegian law, but this seems positively bizarre to me. It seems to go against fundamental concepts of basic due process, but how could a judge come out with a verdict like this?
6. Again: is this how due process works in Norway? In the US, of course, there are things like preliminary injunctions that might be granted pretty quickly, but even then — especially when it comes to gagging speech, there is supposed to be at least some element of due process. Here there appears to have been something close to none. Furthermore, in the US, this kind of thing would only be allowed if one side could show irreversible harm from leaving the site up. It is difficult to see how anyone could legitimately argue irreversible harm for publishing the country’s own (public domain) court rulings.
I find it shocking that the judge ordered the take down of our website, rettspraksis.no, within 24 hours of the lawsuit being filed and WITHOUT HEARING ARGUMENTS FROM US. (Sorry for switching to CAPS, but this is really important.) We were ready and available to bring forth our arguments but were never given the chance. Furthermore, upon learning of the lawsuit, we, as a precaution, had voluntarily removed our site. If the judge had bothered to check he would have seen that what he was ordering was already done. There should be a much higher threshold for judges to close websites that just the request of some organization.
7. And, even if this was the equivalent of an injunction, to also tell Wium Lie and rettspraksis.no that they need to pay Lovdata’s legal fees is just perplexing.
the two of us, the volunteers, were slapped with a $12,000 fee to cover the fees of Lovdata’s own lawyer, Jon Wessel-Aas. So, the judge actually ordered that we had to pay the lawyer from the opposite side, WITHOUT HAVING BEEN GIVEN A CHANCE TO ARGUE OUR CASE.
This whole situation is infuriating. Being sued is a horrible experience in the first place. But the details here pile absurd upon preposterous upon infuriating. The whole database rights concept is already a troublesome thing, but this application of it is positively monstrous. Wium Lie now has some good lawyers working for him, and hopefully this whole travesty will get overturned, but what a clusterfuck.
* A separate tangent that I’ll just note here rather than cluttering up all of the above. I was a bit confused to read references to the EU’s database directive/database rights, because Norway is not part of the EU. However, since it is a part of the European Economic Area (yes — this can all get confusing), it has apparently agreed to enact legislation that complies with certain EU Directives, including the Copyright and Database Directives.