EFF fights lawsuit over publishing secret, expensive-to-see laws

From rogue archivist Carl Malamud (who recently liberated a massive trove of expensive standards and regulations that you were legally obliged to comply with, but couldn't see without paying out large sums of money):

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked a federal judge today to protect the free speech rights of an online archive of laws and legal standards after a wrongheaded copyright claim forced the removal of a document detailing important technical standards required by the federal government and several states.

EFF and co-counsel David Halperin represent Public.Resource.Org, Inc., a non-profit organization that improves the public's access to laws and codes that affect their lives. As part of its work, Public Resource acquires and makes available public safety documents such as fire safety codes, food safety standards, and other regulations that have been incorporated into U.S. and international laws. But last month, the association of Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors (SMACNA) claimed an online post of a federally-mandated 1985 standard on air-duct leakage violated their copyright, and demanded it be removed. The standards are a crucial element of U.S. federal energy conservation efforts and an integral part of model codes such as the International Energy Conservation Code. After a threat of legal action from SMACNA, Public Resource took down the document until a court could affirm its right to publish the information.

“The public has a right to meaningful access to the laws that govern their lives,” said Carl Malamud, the president and founder of Public Resource. “Technical standards like the ones in this document have the force of law, and people need to know them in order to comply with regulatory obligations, keep the public safe, and avoid costly penalties. The right of citizens to read and speak the law is fundamental to an informed citizenry in the United States and throughout the world. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, which means we have to be able to read the law.”

In a petition for declaratory and injunctive relief filed today, EFF and Public Resource asked the court to rule that the posting the standards does not infringe any copyright.

“Building codes and other technical specifications touch our lives every day, and Public Resource is helping to make it easier for us to access and understand how they affect us,” said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. “We're asking the judge today to let Public Resource continue its important work in increasing the public's access to the laws and regulations that govern us.”

More information from EFF on PRO v. SMACNA

More on public safety codes

Previously on Boing Boing:

March 20, 2012: Liberating America's secret, for-pay laws
May 15, 2012: Publishing America's for-pay, private Laws
August 30, 2012: Revealed at last: India's public safety code for tamarind pulp
December 30, 2012: Public Resource liberates global building codes, include the Eurocode -- free the law!