Official Law of Georgia is Copyrighted, and the State Enforces That Copyright

A district judge has ruled that the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OGCA), the official state law of Georgia, was subject to copyright, and that its dissemination was not covered by fair use, Ars Technica reports.

Open-records activist Carl Malamud purchased a hard copy of the OGCA for $1,207.02 (with shipping) from Lexis-Nexis (which compiles the OGCA for Georgia) and subsequently sent digital copies on USB drives to the state house speaker and a number of other Georgia politicians and lawyers and posted it on Public.Records.org, Ars Technica explains.

The state of Georgia, and the Code Revision Commission (CRC), a government body, brought a lawsuit against the website, accusing it of violating copyright. Attorneys for the website argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because the OCGA, as the official state law of Georgia, was not copyrightable, and that even if it were, public dissemination would fall under fair use.

The judge, Richard Story, disagreed, ruling that even though the OCGA is the official state law of Georgia, the annotations in it were copyrightable because the Copyright Law includes annotations as copyrightable material. He further dismissed the argument that disseminating the OCGA to the public fell under fair use, because the use was not "transformative" and because, even though it was non-commercial, courts have ruled that non-profit use of copyrighted material could yield "profits" such as "an indirect economic benefit or a non-monetary, professional benefit."

The CRC, as Story noted, "has 'the ultimate right of editorial control." The lawsuit was brought by the commission, not Lexis-Nexis, the company the CRC hires to produce the official law of the state of Georgia. The commission receives royalties from sales of the CD-ROM and physical copies of the OCGA, and it collected $85.747.91 in fiscal year 2014. The purpose of copyright is supposed to be to "promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." Contemporary copyright law already stretches the understanding of "limited time" to time periods generally greater than human lifespans. In this case, the promotion of progress is completely indiscernible. After all, would the commission and Georgia's lawmakers in the legislative and judicial branches stop their work if it weren't enforceable by copyright?

Read the opinion, via Ars Technica, here.