How Washington DC Went From Locking Up Laws To Releasing Them In The Public Domain Within Days
from the good-move dept
In the last week, a lot of attention was paid to the fact that Washington DC had been claiming a copyright on its laws, saying that you could not download a digital copy, and the state couldn't even release an entire copy of its own laws under a FOIA request, because of the copyright and the contract it held with outside publishing firms (initially West and, more recently, Lexis). As with the stories in Oregon and California, the person who helped drive attention to just how crazy this is was Carl Malamud, hero to everyone who believes in the importance of open access to public information. This time, he paid $803 for a copy of the code, scanned it all, and sent copies on USB drives in the shape of famous American Presidents to a bunch of folks.
Normally, at this point in the story, we hear about the local government hemming and hawing or even issuing vague threats. But not in the case of DC. Over the course of a few days, it appears that Washington DC's tech savvy General Counsel V. David Zvenyach quickly moved to deal with the problem. Part of the issue was that the only digital copy of the code that they had was the one given to them by West, and it contained a variety of extraneous information that was West's IP, including West logos on each section of the law (representing many thousands of copies). Zvenyach had Joshua Tauberer come by and spend a day removing every bit of West IP from the document and quickly releasing a downloadable copy of the DC Code with a CC0 public domain license.
That's pretty awesome. To go from having the code locked up for no good reason to a public domain downloadable release in days is pretty cool. Kudos to Malamud, Zvenyach and Tauberer for their part in this, as well as Tom MacWright, who first sought the copy of the code and brought this issue to the attention of Malamud and others.
Of course, it's not a perfect solution. As MacWright notes in his post about this release:
There are a few things that this isn’t: it isn’t the official copy of the code, and lawyers would be ill-advised to cite it alone. It isn’t up-to-date – the council is fast-moving and this is just a snapshot. In time we’ll fix these problems too.Yes, even though it's being released directly by the DC Council on their website, it's designated as an "unofficial copy" and it's only up-to-date through last year. However, hopefully others will get it up to date, and eventually the DC Council will be able to list an "official" copy as well. Oh, and for those living in or around DC, MacWright is also planning a hackathon around this new code, to see what awesome and useful tools people can build on top of it.