Oregon once again claims that law is copyrighted

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,

Boing Boing readers may remember a year ago when the great State of Oregon asserted copyright over the Oregon Revised Statutes, sending take-down notices prohibiting reuse by Justia and Public.Resource.Org. In a shining example of democracy, the legislature held hearings, heard us out, and unanimously waived copyright on the laws. The results of opening up the law were pretty spectacularly demonstrated when a 2nd-year law student, Robb Shecter, created the beautiful OregonLaws.Org (compare to the official site for a night and day look).

Well, those copyright assertions are back, this time by the Attorney General, who asserted ownership over the (for real!) Attorney General's Public Record and Public Meeting Manual. I spent last week in Oregon meeting with law school faculty and giving lectures at 3 universities on the topic of who owns the law.

The results have been compiled into a formal pleading which we are submitting to the Attorney General for his consideration. He seems like a good guy, and we've asked him to issue an official Attorney General Opinion on when the state may assert copyright, covering not only his Public Meeting manual, but also the Secretary of State's Administrative Rules, the Fire Marshall's Fire Code, and the Building Codes. We have quite a few of those documents already on line, so there is an actual issue on the table and we're hoping he'll do the research and make a ruling.

The Oregon Question (Thanks, Carl!)


  1. Reminds me of arguments I’ve had with people who were bothered by the idea of inmates having unfettered access to law books in the prison library. In what kind of twisted world would we be worse off if more people knew what was legal and what was illegal?

    1. I think this is more a matter of money. According to doj site for Oregon:

      “…the Attorney General updates and publishes a Public Records and Meetings Manual. The manual is intended to provide assistance to state agencies, local governments and to the public generally. Copies of the manual may be purchased…”

      I think the AJ perceives this as a loss of revenue that he/his state would normally receive. The idea that making the materials open to everyone (which technically they already are), would be making them free to everyone via the internet. God forbid you should get information for free.

  2. @1 if the point is simply to keep people imprisoned (as it would be from the point of say, the prison guards’ union), then denying prisoners access to this info would make sense.

    Damn, Cory, you were in Oregon. Let me know if you swing back by. I got a first edition of Little Brother I want you to sign. (don’t guess you could sign my first copy, a .txt file.)

  3. I was able to attend Carl Malamud’s presentation at my law school and his work is extremely impressive. Having previously taken classes from the current Oregon Attorney General, I can say that he is an extremely intelligent and reasonable person. Although not present at their meeting, I’m confident he would be very receptive to Mr. Malamud’s concerns. In short, Malamud is exactly right, and Mr. Kroger will know it. I don’t expect the State of Oregon to be making copyright claims over their laws anytime soon.

  4. a 2nd-year law student, Robb Shecter, created the beautiful OregonLaws.Org (compare to the official site for a night and day look)

    Aaggh!!! My eyes! MY EYES!!!!

  5. Hi Diggidy –

    I want to agree with you about Attorney General Kroger. But when I asked his office for a copy of the “Attorney General’s Public Records and Meetings Manual” I got the following response, by email:

    “The State, by and through DOJ, owns copyright to the Manual, and it is not to be redistributed without our permission in any format. This measure is to help protect the copyright.”

    It took about a month – and an official public records request, to him – to even get this much.

    So Kroger may well be a reasonable person, but he knows all about this situation, and has chosen (unsuccessfully!) to try and keep this material off the web. I hope he changes his mind and does the right thing, but so far no joy.

    see http://openuporegon.com for details.

    1. Random Professor,

      I appreciate your efforts to open up Oregon laws. I think we agree here. However, I believe your interaction with the AG’s office is representative of the process Mr. Kroger is currently evaluating (and hopefully changing). I wouldn’t count him out as an ally just yet. He’s only been in office for less than a year now–and, I could be wrong, but I assume changing their copyright stance was not high on the list of priorities when he took office. I still expect him to make the right decision.

      Personally, I believe that anything made by a public official during the course of their official duties should be public and free, as my tax dollars pay for it. In time, I’m confident Kroger will agree.

  6. I’m fully behind paying them for the fruits of their labor…if we can stop paying for their labor. Pay as you go government, what could go wrong? heh.

    Also, if someone were to purchase a copy and then do a line by line critique online, would that be fair use?

  7. Well, sure you gotta copyright the laws, you have to have some way to give an incentive for the Oregon legislature to profit, otherwise there won’t be any more new laws. Also, unscrupulous freeloaders would just copy them and pass them off as their own original laws, without giving credit to the state legislature.

  8. Seriously, I seem to recall that Article Four of the Constitution provides “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” Not long before American Revolution, William Blackstone in the Commentaries to the Laws of England suggested that it was important to make laws known “not like Caligula, who . . . wrote his laws in very small character, and hung them up upon high pillars, the more effectually to ensnare the people.” I bet some of the copyright mavens have already beaten this to death, but copyrighting THE LAW sounds like it could be unconstitutional.

  9. We’re not responsible for obeying any laws that they won’t let us read, are we? Ignorance of the law is ostensibly no excuse, but if they won’t tell us the laws, they can’t reasonably hold us to them… :-)

    It’s especially egregious for a “Public Meeting Manual” – I don’t know about Oregon state laws, but the US Constitution says that Congress can’t make any laws abridging the right to petition for redress of grievances, and here’s Oregon’s AG saying that we’re not allowed to see the equivalent information for Oregon.

  10. Hmmm, I think this opens up the way for my ignorance of the law defense. See, I live in an area that is very anti-government and not one ISP allows access to State sites. So whenever I go to Portland to do my shopping, I inveriably cpmmit petty crimes. But one of these days, I am sure to pull a doozy. Including updating my website to include Oregon’s laws, which I transcribde in full when I am in the Capitol’s library. For some reason, the bit on whether or not that is legal is either always missing or never there in the first place.

  11. I actually don’t even understand what these people even think they’re contributing by doing this. What practical purpose do they think they’re achieving? They can’t honestly be doing this just because, erm, “why not?” can they?

  12. “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” – James Madison.

    This quote is printed right on the cover of the Public Records manual the DOJ is trying to keep of the web.

    Apparently they think these words are just decoration. I wonder what they are going to print on the 2010 revision? Something from Orwell? Kafka? Ashcroft?

  13. Unbelievable. So does this mean when an attorney uses the law she must pay a fee? What about a judge? “Ignorance of the law is no excuse” but you must pay to access and become knowledgeable of the the laws and regulations drafted and adopted by government officials and representatives paid for with your tax dollars? I’m sorry judge, I was unaware of the law because it was copyrighted and thus not readily available… Probably wo

  14. It doesn’t cease to amaze me how thouroghly moral hazards of this sort corrupt us in my good country. I am a simple man and am free to see my rights as inviolate. This is an indulgence which I purchase by keeping my head down. Kroger is really in charge and is not free to follow his own beliefs about our rights, if I may trust the referalls above. I fear for my country when we cannot even name the conflicts of interest that drive us.

    Everyone on all sides seems to agree that the law should be free. The argument that prisoners should not have access to law is a tactical requirement, driven by a conflict of interest we cannot bear to see: prsctrl mscndct. I am in fact afraid to express my opinions about it.

    As to the wider attack on the public domain, everybody who looks knows it is the corporationPersons rights that are the driving conflict there… will that tide ever turn?

  15. Those bozo bureaucrats need to read the Federal Copyright Law.

    “In the case of works made for hire, the employer and not the employee is considered to be the author. Section 101 of the copyright law defines a ‘work make for hire’ as:
    1. a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment;or
    2. a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as:
    -a contribution to a collective work

    They are forgetting that they are employees of the public, hence the public owns the laws and any copyright (if you can truly copyright the law, which I doubt).

    If that doesn’t cover it, then fair use should.

    “The fair use of a copyrighted work…for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

    Those dimwits should be ousted from their fat government positions post haste.

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