Oregon Attorney General releases "copyrighted" Public Meeting Manual, will hold hearings on whether Oregon law is copyrighted

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,
People may remember there has been a bit of a spat over the Oregon Attorney General's Public Meeting Manual. This is part of a series of issues in the state of Oregon over the question of who may copy and public the law of the land.

I'm pleased to report that Attorney General John Kroger today released that manual, appointed a special Deputy Counsel to handle these kinds of transparency issues, and announced a set of hearings about the issues involved.

This is good news! It does not yet address the most fundamental issues, such as whether the state may assert copyright over the law, but it is a formal set of hearings that will examine the issue, which we're happily going to participate in.

Some background on the Oregon issue is available at the Public.Resource.Org Oregon.Gov page and you should read the Attorney General's announcement. If Oregon resolves the issue of who may copyright the law, this will be real progress.



  1. …Since laws are a “method of operation,” aren’t they properly the subject of patents, not copyrights? (ducks runs away)

  2. A way to simplify this problem (maybe oversimplify it?) is to ask, “Is it public or is it copyright? Make up your mind.”

  3. Another appropriate question is, “Are we willing to let non-anglophones off the hook for violating state law because copyright terms didn’t allow organizations to translate the laws into their language?”

    Because you can say “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” and that’s one thing, but if your rules actually stand in the way of someone helping a community understand the laws they must follow, that’s just not fair play.

  4. A suggestion to help solve this problem: encourage readers from the state of Oregon to contact their government representatives. It’s more constructive and likely to produce change than the current trend in posts on this topic.

  5. Still waiting to see if they are going to seek royalties from Washington State for copying their “Death with Dignity” act.

  6. Its nice to see politicians realizing their mistakes and working towards fixing them, but this is a dumb way to go about it. Why bother with creating yet another oversight department when you could just as easily put all the records online and put this whole mess to rest? I think that Washingtion (DC) has shown us all how ineffectual oversight can be, so I can’t fathom how the creation of yet another one (in Oregon) to be any more successful than their washington counterparts.

    I guess I don’t understand Oregon law or the application of it. Wouldn’t just be easier to pass a bill stating that all documents will be made available to the public online for free? Or if they want a hard copy, charge a nominal fee to cover printing costs or tell them to go to kinkos and print it themselves.

  7. I think everybody misunderstands the issue here. The state of Oregon is not claiming a copyright in the laws or ststutes themselves, they are claiming a copyright in the published manual that they create at their own expense, and sell. There was a court case some time ago about whether phone books or similar pulications of primarily functional information could be copyrighted, and the general rule is that, while the functional information inside, such as the listing of phone numbers, could be copied freely, things like layout, formatting, explanatory information etc. is copyrightable. The problem in this particular instance is that someone just copied, in toto, the booklet published by the State, rather than using the published document to get the text of the laws, and then publish their own book, with its own layout, text, explanations, etc.

  8. One problem that’s a bit more ticklish is engineering and other technical codes that are incorporated into the law by reference. Building 90% of your building code by incorporating one of the two national ones is a valid strategy but should the original authors be compensated or lose their copyrights?

  9. How could government hold intellectual property rights in anything? Seems to me it’s all work for hire.

  10. **Building 90% of your building code by incorporating one of the two national ones is a valid strategy but should the original authors be compensated or lose their copyrights?**

    Any group with a model code would LOVE to have this problem. It lets them make a fortune selling the “annotated” version of their code books, never mind the tremendous prestige and power that comes with being the group that shapes the regulations for your industry.

    Interesting example along those lines (though one where the group probably wasn’t so happy): The American Bar Association released and periodically updates its Model Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) for lawyers. Most law schools require a class in professional ethics (since all but 2 or 3 state bars require you to pass a national test based on those rules). One state (Delaware?) has adopted the most recent MRPC completely and verbatim. The professional ethics book I used noted that it requested permission from the ABA to use the MRPC in its textbook, but they wouldn’t allow it without the payment of a hefty royalty. Solution: rather than quote the copyrighted MRPC, they just quoted the public-domain Delaware law. Any variances in the MRPC could then be quoted, and the use of the copyrighted material would be de minimis.

  11. This is not new. I had to build a guest house in my back yard for my aging mother-in-law. I figured “Hey, I’m a mechanical engineer I can just look up the building codes and design up something that meets the standards” But all the building codes are copyrighted, published and sold from a single company. Think about it. It is illegal to build a building that violates the code, however you can’t read them unless you buy a copy. That maybe one step removed from this but it is still it is the same type of crap.

  12. perturbed, I think you’re missing the issue. Copyrights are not natural rights, they exist because they serve a purpose — to encourage people to make stuff by allowing them to profit from their work.

    But this is the government; they don’t exist for a profit motive, they exist for a constituency, who’s paying them anyway. To say that we need to give more money to the government to encourage them to make things is silly.

  13. Once an agenda has been set at start of meeting, may it be altered by someone later in the meeting? My understanding is that once the agenda has been accepted it may not be changed?

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