Free and really good information from Justia – daily opinion summaries; weekly practice area summaries

Our friends at Justia sent an e-mail to law-lib about their new free case summary service.  Since all the world doesn’t read law-lib, I’ve pasted below Tim Stanley’s exciting  announcement.  I’ve signed up for the FREE (my favorite word) service, and it’s a terrific tool for keeping up with decisional developments both by specific court and also by subject matter.  I’m going to encourage all of my students to sign up too, especially those who want a judicial clerkship, as this is a nifty tool for students to learn about very recent decisions from the judges with whom they are interested in seeking interviews and positions.

Here’s Tim’s e-mail:

 

Hi All,

Justia would like to introduce our new Free Daily Opinion Summaries service.

We will be writing daily summaries for the Federal Appellate Courts
and selected state supreme courts (eventually we will add them all).
You can subscribe to the summary emails at:

     http://Daily.Justia.com

We will also be sending out weekly practice area summaries emails that
will include all of the summaries for all courts we wrote that week in
the legal practice area.

Here are some examples from last week:

U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:    http://j.st/ost

Environmental Law Weekly Summaries:    http://j.st/osv

If you have any suggestions for layouts, additional courts or practice
areas, please let us know. The current courts and practice areas we
cover are:

DAILY COURT SUMMARIES

U.S. Federal Courts: U.S. Supreme Court and the Federal, D.C., 1st,
2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th Circuit Courts of
Appeals

U.S. State Top Courts: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut,
Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri,
Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota,
Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming

And a few other courts like the Delaware Court of Chancery. We will be
adding more state courts in the near future. The full continuously
updated list is at http://Daily.Justia.com

WEEKLY PRACTICE AREA SUMMARIES

The weekly practice area opinion summaries, include all of the
summaries for all courts we wrote that week in the legal practice
area, are provided for the following:

Admiralty & Maritime Law, Aerospace/Defense, Agriculture Law, Animal /
Dog Law, Antitrust & Trade Regulation, Arbitration & Mediation,
Aviation, Banking, Bankruptcy, Business Law, Civil Rights, Class
Action, Commercial Law, Communications Law, Constitutional Law,
Construction Law, Consumer Law, Contracts, Copyright, Corporate
Compliance, Criminal Law, Drugs & Biotech, Education Law, Election
Law, Energy, Oil & Gas Law, Entertainment & Sports Law, Environmental
Law, ERISA, Family Law, Gaming Law, Government & Administrative Law,
Government Contracts, Health Law, Immigration Law, Injury Law,
Insurance Law, Intellectual Property, International Law, International
Trade, Internet Law, Juvenile Law, Labor & Employment Law, Landlord -
Tenant, Legal Ethics, Medical Malpractice, Mergers & Acquisitions,
Military Law, Native American Law, Non-Profit Corporations, Patents,
Products Liability, Professional Malpractice & Ethics, Public
Benefits, Real Estate & Property Law, Securities Law, Tax Law,
Trademark, Transportation Law, Trusts & Estates, Utilities Law, White
Collar Crime, Zoning, Planning & Land Use,

If you have other practice areas you would like us to break out, let
us know. We are not against adding some more as long as there are
enough opinions in the area and it does not nearly overlap one of the
above.

You can see the current list of courts and practice areas (in a
readable table format) at http://Daily.Justia.com

Again it is totally free :)

Peace,

Tim

————————————————————
Timothy Stanley                       . . .

Codifying Commonsense – the Law.gov Principles

I am very pleased and proud to add my signature to the LAW.GOV PRINCIPLES AND DECLARATION just posted at public.resource.org.  These principles coalesced during the fifteen Law.gov workshops and have received the unanimous consent of the co-covenors of these Law.gov workshops.  The principles include items that we librarians have discussed for years, even decades, like vendor-neutral citation.  And these principles are consistent with the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform States Laws (NCCUSL) draft of a new “Authentication and Preservation of State Electronic Legal Materials Act.”

Here are the principles:

The primary legal materials of the United States are the raw materials of our democracy. They should be made more broadly available to enable an informed citizenry.

Primary legal materials include documents of primary authority issued by governmental bodies, such as court opinions, statutes, and regulations. They also include the supporting documents and other media issued and maintained by those bodies, such as dockets, hearings, forms, oral arguments, and legislative histories. These materials can be found in every branch, at every level, national, tribal, state and local, and should be available to anyone with the will and the heart to obtain them.

The following principles should govern the dissemination of primary legal materials in the United States:

1. Direct fees for dissemination of primary legal materials should be avoided.

2. Limitations on access through terms of use or the assertion of copyright on primary legal materials is contrary to long-standing public policy and core democratic principles and is misleading to citizens.

3. Primary legal materials should be made available using bulk access mechanisms so they may be downloaded by anyone.

4. The primary legal materials, and the methods used to access them, should be authenticated so people can trust in the integrity of these materials.

5. Historical archives should be made available online and in a static location to the extent possible.

6. Vendor- and media-neutral citation mechanisms should be employed.

7. Technical standards for document structure, identifiers, and metadata should be developed and applied as extensively as possible.

8. Data should be distributed in a computer-processable, non-proprietary form in a manner that meets best current practices for the distribution of open government data. That data should represent the definitive documents, not just aggregate, preliminary, or modified forms.

9. An active program of research and development should be sponsored by governmental bodies that issue primary legal materials to develop new standards and solutions to challenges presented by the electronic distribution of definitive primary legal materials. Examples include the automated detection and redaction of private personal information in documents.

10. An active program of education, training, and documentation should be undertaken to help governmental bodies that issue primary legal materials learn and use best current practices.

Adherence to these principles by governmental bodies is not just good for democracy and justice, it will spur innovation and will encourage:

1. Broader use of legal materials in all parts of our education system, including our law schools.

2. Researchers in law schools, universities, and other research institutions to have broader access to bulk data, spurring important research on the functioning of our government.

3. Innovation in the legal information market by reducing barriers to entry.

4. Savings in the government’s own cost of providing these materials through adherence to best current practices.

5. Small businesses to understand rules and regulations they must deal with, reducing their costs and increasing their effectiveness.

6. Increased foreign trade by making it easier for our foreign partners to understand our laws.

7. Better access to justice by making legal information more broadly available to citizens.

How we distribute the raw materials of our democracy is a foundational issue in our system of government. Access to the raw materials of our democracy is a prerequisite for the rule of law and access to justice and makes real the principles of equal protection and due process.

and here are the signatories:

Jack M. Balkin
Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment
 Yale Law School 

Robert C. Berring, Jr.
Walter Perry Johnson Professor of Law
Berkeley Law, University of California 

James Boyle
William Neal Reynolds Professor of Law
 Duke Law School 

Nicholas Bramble
Postdoctoral Associate in Law
 Yale Law School 

Tom R. Bruce
Director, Legal Information Institute
 Cornell Law School 

Richard A. Danner
Archibald C. & Frances Fulk Rufty Research Professor of Law
 Duke Law School 

Laura E. DeNardis
Executive Director, Information Society Project
 Yale Law School 

Edward W. Felten
Professor of Computer Science & Public Affairs
 Princeton University 

Jerry Goldman
Professor & Director, Oyez Project
 Northwestern University 

Joseph Lorenzo Hall
Visiting Postdoctoral Research Associate
UC Berkeley and Princeton University

  Jennifer Jenkins
Director, Center for the Study of the Public Domain
 Duke Law School 

Mitchell Kapor
Trustee
 Mitchell Kapor Foundation 

S. Blair Kauffman
Law Librarian and Professor of Law
 Yale Law School 

Mark A. Lemley
William H. Neukom Professor of Law
 Stanford Law School 

Lawrence Lessig
Professor of Law
 Harvard Law School 

Paul Lomio
Director, Robert Crown Law Library
 Stanford Law School 

Carl Malamud
President
 Public.Resource.Org 

Harry S. Martin III
Librarian & Professor of Law Emeritus
 Harvard Law School 

Peter W. Martin
Jane M.G. Foster Professor of Law
 Cornell Law School 

John Mayer
Executive Director
Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction

  Judy Meadows
State Law Librarian
 State Law Library of Montana 

Paul Ohm
Associate Professor of Law and Telecommunications
University of Colorado Law School

  Tim O’Reilly
Chief Executive Officer
 O’Reilly Media 

John G. Palfrey
Henry N. Ess III Librarian & Professor of Law
 Harvard Law School 

Pamela Samuelson
Richard M. Sherman Distinguished Professor of Law
Berkeley Law, University of California

  Stuart Sierra
Assistant Director, Program on Law and Technology
 Columbia Law School 

Stephen Schultze
Associate Director, Center for Information Technology Policy
 Princeton University 

Tim Stanley
Chief Executive Officer
 Justia 

Erika V. Wayne
Deputy Director, Robert Crown Law Library
 Stanford Law School 

Christopher Wong
Postgraduate Fellow
 New York Law School 

Tim Wu
Professor of Law
 Columbia Law School 

Harlan Yu
Doctoral Student in Computer Science
 Princeton University 

Jonathan Zittrain
Professor of Law & Computer Science
 Harvard Law School

A big day for Free Law

See Google post below.  And stay tuned for another announcement tomorrow, which will be yet another big day for Free Law.   And we here at Stanford have something cooking too.  Stay tuned.

Take a look at this posting and its comments too, from the Supreme Court of Texas Blog.

 

 

http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/finding-laws-that-govern-us.html

 

Finding the laws that govern us
 
11/17/2009 09:05:00 AM

As many of us recall from our civics lessons in school, the United States is a common law country. That means when judges issue opinions in legal cases, they often establish precedents that will guide the rulings of other judges in similar cases and jurisdictions. Over time, these legal opinions build, refine and clarify the laws that govern our land. For average citizens, however, it can be difficult to find or even read these landmark opinions. We think that’s a problem: Laws that you don’t know about, you can’t follow � or make effective arguments to change.

Starting today, we’re enabling people everywhere to find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts using Google Scholar. You can find these opinions by searching for cases (like Planned Parenthood v. Casey), or by topics (like desegregation) or other queries that you are interested in. For example, go to Google Scholar, click on the “Legal opinions and journals” radio button, and try the query separate but equal. Your search results will include links to cases familiar to many of us in the U.S. such as Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, which explore the acceptablity of “separate but equal” facilities for citizens at two different points in the history of the U.S. But your results will also include opinions from cases that you might be less familiar with, but which have played an important role.

We think this addition to Google Scholar will empower the average citizen by helping everyone learn more about the laws that govern us all. To understand how an opinion has influenced other decisions, you can explore citing and related cases using the Cited by and Related articles links on search result pages. As you read an opinion, you can follow citations to the opinions to which it refers. You can also see how individual cases have been quoted or discussed in other opinions and in articles from law journals. Browse these by clicking on the “How Cited” link next to the case title. See, for example, the frequent citations for Roe v. Wade, for Miranda v. Arizona (the source of the famous Miranda warning) or for Terry v. Ohio (a case which helped to establish acceptable grounds for an investigative stop by a police officer).

As we worked to build this feature, we were struck by how readable and accessible these opinions are. Court opinions don’t just describe a decision but also present the reasons that support the decision. In doing so, they explain the intricacies of law in the context of real-life situations. And they often do it in language that is surprisingly straightforward, even for those of us outside the legal profession. In many cases, judges have gone quite a bit out of their way to make complex legal issues easy to follow. For example, in Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court justices present a fascinating and easy-to-follow debate on the legality of internment of natural born citizens based on their ancestry. And in United States v. Ramirez-Lopez, Justice Kozinski, in his dissent, illustrates the key issue of the case using an imagined good-news/bad-news dialogue between the defendant and his attorney.

We would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of several pioneers, who have worked on making it possible for an average citizen to educate herself about the laws of the land: Tom Bruce (Cornell LII), Jerry Dupont (LLMC), Graham Greenleaf and Andrew Mowbray (AustLII), Carl Malamud (Public.Resource.Org), Daniel Poulin (LexUM), Tim Stanley (Justia), Joe Ury (BAILII), Tim Wu (AltLaw) and many others. It is an honor to follow in their footsteps. We would also like to acknowledge the judges who have built this cathedral of justice brick by brick and have tried to make it accessible to the rest of us. We hope Google Scholar will help all of us stand on the shoulders of these giants.

Posted by Anurag Acharya, Distinguished Engineer

Can Free Information Make Us A Vendor-Free Library? (updated with great comments and a great PowerPoint presentation on free resources)

I think maybe it can, and  in the very near future.

I took the latest issue of The New Yorker to the gym this morning — as long as there are cardio machines (and doctors’ waiting rooms) there will be a market for print magazines — and read Malcolm Gladwell’s book review essay “Priced to Sell.  Is free the future?” about Chris Anderson’s new book Free: The Future of a Radical Price.

Gladwell writes:

The digital age, Anderson argues, is exerting an inexorable downward pressure on the prices of all things “made of ideas.”  Anderson does not consider this a passing trend.  Rather, he seems to think of it as an iron law: “In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.”

Is this true for law libraries?  Earlier Sergio wrote about Morrison & Foerster’s wonderful “Privacy Library”of statutes, regulations,  links to government institutions, and IGO & NGO reports. This includes all 50 states and many foreign countries.  And it’s completely Free.

Gladwell writes that Anderson’s “advice is pithy, his tone uncompromising, and his subject matter perfectly timed for a moment when old-line content providers are desperate for answers.”  And desperate for ways to continue a certain size revenue stream, I might add, particularly for companies paying for corporate acquisitions, which includes most of the big name legal publishers.

The biggest legal publisher is the West Publishing Company.  West Publishing’s old-line products have been gathering dust here at the law library for years.  Digests and reporters?  The only touching they get is from feather dusters.   Causes of Action?  No cause to keep that one.   Our patrons are making due just fine without these products, and making greater and greater use Free resources (and with so many lawyers laid-off or fearing layoff, interest and awareness of Free is greater than ever).

And it’s not just West.  Take United States Law Week for Supreme Court coverage, for example.  A fine product.  But in my opinion the very best tool for following the United States Supreme Court is Tom Goldstein’s amazing and 100% Free Scotusblog.  Rachel Maddow called it a “national treasure.”  And I agree.  Law Week is always a step or two behind.

For treatises there’s a wealth of material online for Free at the Federal Judicial Center. There’s a massive quantity of law review commentary available Free at the Legal Scholarship Network. More schools will follow Duke’s and Harvard’s lead and adopt policies called for in The Durham Statement, making law review commentary even more widely and Freely available.  Useful blogs are abundant.  The electronic casebook (and certainly statutory supplements), and  free-book, movement is gathering steam (here at Stanford we see fewer classes using assigned casebooks and more classes built around online course materials).

For other secondary sources, you could try a site like the Free Library which offers millions of free full text articles and periodicals dating from mid 1980s.  Or, you could visit Encyclopedia.com and get facts and figures from over 120 published/credible sources.  How much? For Free…..

As for primary legal material, the list of Free is growing by leaps and bounds and the search abilities getting stronger and stronger.

Georgetown has put together a terrific list of Free sources:http://www.ll.georgetown.edu/guides/freelowcost.cfm

and U.C.L.A. has too:http://libguides.law.ucla.edu/onlinelegalresearch

Tim Stanley, from Justia, has produced this really good PowerPoint presentation on Free that he shows to our advanced legal research class. (note:  slow-loading file):

http://stage.justia.com/stanford_free_research_2009_02.ppt

And, we’ve recently created our own brief guide to free and low cost legal research, posted here.

As Gladwell writes, “. . . ‘Free’ is esentially an extended elaboration that ‘information wants to be free.”  Perhaps this is most so for law, with a tremendous and continuous Free output stream from judges, legislators, regulators, law professors and practitioners.

It’s up to us law librarians to make it stick — to make it work, and show our students how to find and effectively use Free.  It is up to us to show support for liberating information that should be Free.  We need to be willing to make a few mistakes, and maybe get a little less vendor swag, but definitley accept that prec(y)dent might be changing.

To paraphrase the words of John Soule as popularized by Horace Greeley, it’s time to “Go Free, young librarian (and not West, or even mid-West).”

Copyright claims for state statutes – Round Two

Our friends Carl Malamud and Tim Stanley are again in the news:

ROWLAND: California seeks compensation for posting laws online
Kara Rowland
The Washington Times, Monday, September 15, 2008

In the latest instance of states claiming copyright over their laws, public information activist Carl Malamud posted the California Code of Regulations online at public.resource.org. According to the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, Calif., the state government is asserting a copyright over its laws so that people will be forced to buy a digital copy for $1,556 or a print copy for $2,315. The state rakes in nearly $1 million a year from sales of its code.

“We exercise our copyright to benefit the people of California,” Linda Brown, deputy director of California’s Office of Administrative Law, told the paper earlier this month. “We are obtaining compensation for the people of California.”

. . .

Oregon relented in June following negotiations with Mr. Malamud and Mr. Stanley.

Mr. Malamud told the Press Democrat he is willing to go to court.

“If that happens, it opens the doors to innovation,” he said.

My Lunch with Carl

I taught resources in the law at San Jose State University for about a decade.  One thing I told all of my students is that, at some point in their careers, they HAD to hear Bob Berring speak in public.  I instructed them to keep an eye out for presentations he’d be making so that they could attend one of them.  I told my students that they simply couldn’t retire until they had done this.  I still feel that same way about Bob, but since he’s now moved to the Dark Side of teaching contracts law, these librarian-focused speaking engagements of his are much less common.

But last week Erika and I had the pleasure of having lunch with Carl Malamud, and starting this fall all of our students in advanced legal research are going to receive the same admonishment from us:  They have to hear Carl speak.

Those of you attending AALL in Portland  will have such an opportunity and really should attend the Hot Topic session on Sunday, July 13 at 4:15 p.m., Push Back and Push Forward – Open Access in Oregon and Beyond.   You have my personal money-back guarantee that you will find Carl’s presentation entertaining, motivating and inspiring.  And you might be outraged as well — perhaps, even, at Carl.

Carl will be sowing the seeds for the “Doctrine of Primary Coverage,” and you don’t want to miss this.

Tim Stanley is way cool too, and his guest appearance in our advanced legal research class last year was, without doubt, the highlight of the course.

Who:  Tim Stanley and Carl Malamud

What:  AALL Hot Topic, “Push Back and Push Forward – Open Access in Oregon and Beyond.”

Where:  OCC-Portland Ballroom 254

When:  Sunday, July 13, 2008, 4:15 p.m.

Why:  To liberate the law.

Oregon and The Power of Persuasion

According to a detailed, must-read report of the Oregon laws copyright dispute hearing carried by the Loaded Orygun, the hearing “was an astonishing display of open-mindedness and respect for informed opinion that resulted in a victory for the public interest.”   As Loaded Orygun’s post ” Shocking Democracy In LCC Hearing: Decision Actually Swayed by Testimony!” reports:

 Carl Malamud and Karl Olson testified first, making arguments strongly based in case law history. Tim Stanley of Justia.org followed, expressing the impact that the LCC’s decision would have on his business, and also expressing a desire to serve as a facilitator in effective public discourse about the law. They had been pursuing a case in Federal court, which was clearly a concern of the LCC members. The LCC also took verbal testimony from three Oregon residents, the authors of this blog post: Pete Forsyth, a collaboration consultant; Bart Massey, a PSU professor and open source advocate; and Amy Sample Ward, formerly of the Chalkboard Project and current project manager for Connectipedia.org. A number of others, including wiki inventor Ward Cunningham and Portland attorney Matthew Whitman, submitted written testimony. Every legislator was thoroughly engaged with the process, . . .

It brings to mind the words of Margaret Mead:  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

For those of you who will be in Portland in a couple of weeks, you’ll get to meet these free access thoughtful, committed citizens and learn what they are next setting their sights upon.

Who:  Tim Stanley and Carl Malamud

What:  AALL Hot Topic, “”Push Back and Push Forward — Open Access in Oregon and Beyond.” 

Where:  OCC-Portland Ballroom 254

When:  Sunday, July 13, 2008, 4:15 p.m.

Why:  To liberate the law.

Big News – Oregon

From Tim Stanley’s Justia blog:

“Oregon’s Legislative Counsel Committee had a meeting this morning to discuss the copyright claim on the Oregon Revised Statutes. After taking legal counsel from Dexter Johnson, talking with Karl Olson, Carl Malamud, three Oregon citizens and myself, they unanimously voted to not to enforce any copyright claims on the Oregon Revised Statutes. This great!!!”

And, I just read this on BoingBoing:

“Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,

“Justia and Public.Resource.Org were invited, along with Karl Olson our counsel, to testify before the Oregon Legislative Counsel Committee. We were joined by a public panel of wikipedians and open source advocates.”

“The process was incredibly well organized. There was a comprehensive briefing packet prepared for the committee, the members asked lots of intelligent questions, and then Dexter Johnson the Legislative Counsel recommended to the committee that they waive assertion of copyright on their statutes. The Majority Leader placed the motion, the President of the Senate called the vote, and the vote was unanimous. This was democracy in action and was great to watch.”

Oregon – Hot Topic

We are pleased to announce the AALL Hot Topic for the annual meeting in Portland, Oregon will be Push Back and Push Forward – Open Access in Oregon and Beyond.  So mark your calendars: Sunday, July 13th at 4:15pm.

The program will feature Carl Malamud (public.resource.org) and Tim Stanley (Justia.com).

Recently, the State of Oregon Legislative Counsel Committee sent Justia a notice of copyright infringement and demand to cease and desist online publication of the Revised Statutes online.  Carl Malamud and Tim Stanley will share the story of this struggle to keep the laws of Oregon freely available.

But what about the rest of the country?  Can state governments prohibit others from downloading, reproducing or distributing their laws? Can courts provide similar restrictions by the nature of their vendor dealings (they do in California!)?  Carl Malamud and Tim Stanley will address these questions, too, sharing their concerns and experiences in this area.

This session will provide both an update on a timely issue, and serve as a call to action on how each of us can get involved in the open access movement.

And, on the topic of Oregon, Peter Forsyth has an interesting post on the WikiProject Oregon site.  I pasted it below for further reading and perhaps an inspiration for getting involved.

From WikiProject Oregon, posted by Peter Forsyth:

This Thursday, the Oregon Legislative Counsel Committee (LCC) will be holding a hearing that should be of major interest to anyone with an interest in Oregon law, and in building (or using) public resources on the Internet. The topic: whether or not the laws that we, the people of Oregon write are in the public domain, or whether the State can prevent their republication by insisting on licensing arrangements.

A couple months back, the LCC — which provides legal advice to the state legislature, and edits draft legislation — issued a takedown notice to justia.com, which was hosting the Oregon Revised Statutes. Justia is a web site that publishes state laws (free of charge, and without advertising) from all states, in a standard format.

Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson issued the takedown notice under direction from the LCC, and cited a 1953 law that gives it authority to make determinations about ownership of various works of the Legislature. He wrote that although the words of the laws themselves are in the public domain, some of the text involved in their publication — the section numbers, descriptive text, etc. — is owned by the State, and protected by copyright.

California-based nonprofit public.resource.org has been the leading advocate for getting this policy changed. They have retained counsel to challenge the policy. Their research indicates both that there aren’t solid legal grounds for this policy, and that it is contrary to the public interest.

The LCC has invited Public.resource.org to give testimony at their next public meeting, but there is no formal representation for Oregon’s community of wiki editors, bloggers, etc.

I expect to testify at the hearing, and would welcome the company of any other Oregon folks. Let me know if you want to come! Additionally, I’d encourage you all to write your legislators (find out who they are here), and the members of the LCC. I’ll try to work up a standard letter in the next day or two, so you don’t have to compose from scratch; watch this post for further news.

Cease, Desist & Resist – Oregon’s Copyright Claim on the Oregon Revised Statutes

from onward.justia.com:

Last week, the State of Oregon Legislative Counsel Committee sent Justia a notice of copyright infringement and demand to cease and desist. In its letter, Dexter Johnson, the Legislative Counsel, asked us to remove a copy of the Oregon Revised Statutes stored on our servers (or pay a licensing fee) by April 30, 2008. The letter claimed copyright on many parts of the Oregon Revised Statutes:

[T]he Committee … claim[s] a copyright in the arrangement and subject-matter compilation of Oregon statutory law, the prefatory and explanatory notes, the leadlines and numbering for each statutory section, the tables the index and annotations and such other incidents as are work product of the Committee in the compilation and publication of Oregon law.

Now, the letter is more detailed than the copyright claim on the Oregon Revised Statutes website:

The Legislative Counsel Committee claims copyright protection in those parts of Oregon Revised Statutes that are legally subject to copyright protection.

My take after reading the above claim on their website was that the State of Oregon was claiming a copyright to the annotation section and not the code itself. Accordingly, our copy of the Oregon Revised Statutes did not include the annotations. Needless to say Oregon’s copyright claim on the code itself was a surprise (understatement).

As requested in the letter, I called Oregon’s Sean Brennan the same Friday and Sean explained their position, reinforced the copyright claims in Dexter Johnson’s letter and said he would get us some licensing information (which is $30,000 for 2 years). He also said that Oregon had been talking with other states about how to raise licensing revenue for their codes. That was somewhat disturbing, as we want states to open up their public laws and regulations.

After the call with Sean, I talked with and sent a copy of the letter to Carl Malamud, who being a former Oregon fire fighter, has a special affection for the state of Oregon. Carl checked out the site, and wrote some letters to Dexter Johnson seeking clarification of their copyright claims.

Thursday, we (Carl Malamud, Nolo’s Stephen Elias and I) had a pleasant and constructive conversation with Dexter Johnson and his team. The Oregon folks are going to think through some different options. If Oregon comes up with a solution that promotes free and open access to the laws, then we will likely avoid litigation. If not, then we will likely have to ask the courts to determine whether state governments can prohibit others from downloading, reproducing or distributing the laws. I hope that given Oregon’s public interest focus, the State will adopt an approach that promotes open access to laws instead of one that maximizes licensing fees. We should know more next week.

Some prominent legal bloggers have commented on Oregon’s copyright claims. See Professor Tim Armstrong’s post “Can States Copyright Their Statutes?” on Info/Law and William Patry’s post “Oregon goes wacka wacka huna kuna” on the The Patry Copyright Blog and Sam Bayard’s post “Oregon Claims Copyright in Its Statutes — Well, Sort Of” on the Citizen Media Law Project Blog. We agree that public policy demands that state laws remain in the public domain. To otherwise permit the State of Oregon or any other governmental body to restrict access to the laws that govern all of us would make a mockery of the legal doctrine that all persons have presumed knowledge of the law. Fortunately, many courts have rightfully declined to recognize such copyright claims asserted by states and municipalities.

Peace,

Tim