Politics

Georgia Sues Website For Publishing State’s Annotated Laws

Photos of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, February 10, 2015. (Photo/Brenna Beech; brennabeech17@att.net)
Photos of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, February 10, 2015. (Photo/Brenna Beech; brennabeech17@att.net)
Credit Brenna Beech / WABE

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The state of Georgia filed a lawsuit against the owner of the website, Public.Resource.org, for publishing the annotated version of the Georgia State code online. 

The owner of the website, Carl Malamud, argues these notes to the law should be free and accessible to the public.

Annotations

The annotations include important notes ─ like when laws were changed and short summaries of court cases that help judges and lawyers interpret state laws. 

But aside from libraries, the annotated version is not available to the public for free. A hard copy of the book can be purchased for about $378 or accessed through the website LexisNexis.

“The site is really bad. You can’t bookmark anything for example,” Malamud said. “You can’t find a provision of the code and then send email to a friend and say, ‘Hey, I want you to go look at this.'”

Malamud said he bought the dozens of volumes and supplements that make up the annotated code a few years ago, scanned all of the pages and published the annotations online to make it easier for people to access.

‘Strategy of Terrorism’

The complaint accuses Malamud of using a “strategy of terrorism” by publishing the annotations in other states including Mississippi, Idaho and Washington D.C. 

 

Attorney Ajay Jindia is with the Schoenthaler Law Group, which specializes in patent litigation and intellectual property rights.

“The reality is that the law is on the state’s side,” Jindia said. “This is not the statute. This is that additional information that talks about how the laws are interpreted.”

Copyright Violation

Jindia said it’s a lot of work on the part of the state’s third party vendor, LexisNexis, to compile the statutes with the one-paragraph summaries of relevant court cases.

“Putting those two together is something valuable,” Jindia said. “Personally, would I like to see this available online for everyone to see? I would love it. But the reality is that if Public.Resource.org wins their case, you may find that the publisher may decide they might not want to do this anymore.”

In the complaint, the state said it may need to “stop publishing the annotations altogether” or update the annotations to the code themselves using state tax dollars, if it is made available online for free.

Owned By The People?

Malamud said there is no copyright in the law and argued the annotations are part of the official law since it is a publication of the state.

“It goes all the way back to our very first Supreme Court that the law has no copyright, because it’s owned by the people,” Malamud said. “You can’t prohibit people from reading, writing and speaking the law. And that’s all we were doing.”

The Georgia General Assembly website only links to the non-annotated version of Georgia laws

Attorneys for the state did not immediately respond to requests for comment at the time of publication.