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Man 'Terrorizes' State -- by Publishing Its Laws Online

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on July 29, 2015 11:14 AM

Hide your children! Hide your wives! The Georgia Annotated Code is free online!

The annotated code was put online, gratis, by, the nonprofit run by Carl Malamud, a longtime advocate of moving legal documents into the public domain. Georgia has sued, claiming that the upload is an attempt to "terrorize" the state into publishing the laws "under Malamud's terms."

The Annotations, Not the Laws, Are Protected

Georgia's lawsuit objects to publishing the Official Code of Georgia Annotated online, accessible to all, for free. The document, which contains the official laws of the state along with annotations created by LexisNexis, usually costs money to access.

When news of the suit broke, much of the Internet exploded in rage and indignation. The information and technology website Techdirt gave a representative look at the Internet zeitgeist when it mocked the state's concerns, writing:

Believe it or not, the State of Georgia is actually claiming that it needs the copyright protections here to incentivize it to create these annotated copies of the law. Apparently, without copyright, Georgia's law would remain sadly unannotated. [...] This is ridiculous. In what world does making the law require copyright protection?

Of course, it's not the law that is protected by copyright. It's the annotations. Our guess is that no one at Techdirt has had to Shepardize a case or scroll through hundreds of West headnotes recently. As lawyers and law students know, those annotations are complex, requiring a lot of work on the part of Lexis and Westlaw to compose and keep up to date, something Techdirt seems to acknowledge in a later post stepping back from its initial outrage. Plus, other free versions of the laws are widely available, on Georgia's website, on FindLaw, and elsewhere.

That Terrorism Thing

Malamud has worked to expand access to legal and government information for years, copyrights be damned. As a "rogue archivist," he's been working to get the Code of Federal Regulations, state administrative laws, and public safety codes available to the public free of charge. In 2009, Malamud told the ABA Journal that "This isn't about 'Everything must be free.' I am just against these artificial barriers to entry, and I am very against information that's supposed to be public that's only accessible if you have a credit card."

Malamud's past strategy is to act first, then to force the state to come along after. It's worked. When he moved SEC's EDGAR database online, the agency objected -- then the Commission moved the database itself. Georgia took issue with that strategy, noting in its complaint that Malamud "has indicated that this type of strategy has been a successful form of 'terrorism' that he has employed in the past." Hyperbole, anyone?

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