Copyrighted Laws?!

The state of California claims copyright over it’s laws. This means that if you want a copy of California’s laws you have to cough up $1,556 for a digital copy online or a whopping $2,315 for hardcopy.

No, I am not a hamster, the preceding was not a joke. It’s actually true, there’s a story in the PressDemocrat. I can smell asinine all over this. Think about it for a second. Everybody knows that you have to know the law. You know the saying: “ignorance of the law is no excuse”. Any cop, prosecutor, lawyer, judge, etc can tell you that not knowing the law doesn’t get you any slack if you break it.

But if you’re in California or any of an unspecified number of other places, you have to fork over hard cash and lots of it just to find out what the laws are that you don’t want to break. Yeah, everybody knows the biggies … murder, rape, burglary, assault, bank robbery, etc. But there’s so many laws on the books these days that even most lawyers are only really knowledgeable about their own particular area of expertise.

Enter Carl Malamud, a guy that has already gotten himself quite a reputation of pushing for digital access to public information. He’s spent a lot of time in recent months scanning tens of thousands of pages of various county and state laws and making them available online.

Yeah, he’s expecting to be hauled into court and in fact is looking forward to it. This is the same guy that back in 1994 got the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to post corporate filings online where anyone could get to them. Last June he was involved in convincing the state of Oregon to quit claiming copyright over it’s laws.

He’s figuring that the court will rule in his favor and that this would establish a precedent that would end up applying to all government agencies and it makes perfect sense to me. If we’re expected to follow the law, then we have to have free access to it. Then there’s the matter of public records… That word “public” isn’t just a decoration.

[Tags]law, copyright, california, california law, public record, public access[/tags]