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The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that Fastcase's petition for declaratory relief against Lawriter may proceed to the merits stage.
In short, this case relates to Lawriter's claim that Fastcase is infringing upon its rights to the Georgia code by accessing the code that Lawriter publishes on behalf of the state. Interestingly though, the federal district court dismissed the matter due to its belief that Lawriter doesn't actually have any rights to enforce, and due to a lack of jurisdiction. The appellate court disagreed on both grounds and reversed.
Fastcase is a legal research provider for legal professionals. The company received a cease and desist from Lawriter instructing it to stop providing the code it published to Fastcase subscribers. Fastcase, in turn, sought the court's intervention to ensure that it could continue to provide its customers with access to the state's code.
As the appellate decision notes, Lawriter is contracted by the state to maintain an online database housing the state's codes that is free to access to the public. In the court's understanding, the code is in the public domain, and Lawriter is tasked with ensuring the public has access to the code without any strings attached.
After Fastcase initially brought this action, Lawriter added a terms of service for the Georgia code prohibiting access for republication, especially for a fee. The terms added a liquidated damages clause. This lead to a subsequent action for declaratory relief by Fastcase as they now risked violating the "terms" by continuing to provide their members access to the code.
Unfortunately for Fastcase, winning the Eleventh Circuit Appeal will just be the start of the litigation, as now the petition will need to be tested on the merits.
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