More than 4,000,000 attempts to read US law have failed since a court ordered Public Resource to take it down

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud writes, "In keeping with best practices for major Internet providers to issue periodic transparency reports, Public Resource would like to issue two reports.

"First, our National Security Letter canary is still alive. If we receive such a letter in the future, we will kill the canary and you will not see this report next year.

"Second, due to ongoing litigation in the case of American Society for Testing and Materials et al v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc. currently pending in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, we have issued 4,063,455 HTTP 451 error messages for attempting to access standards from ASTM, NFPA, and ASHRAE. These documents are all incorporated into federal and state law and include such vital public safety documents as the National Electrical Code, which is the law in all 50 states. The HTTP 451 error message is issued when a document is Unavailable For Legal Reasons.

"During the term of the ongoing litigation over our right to post public safety standards that are part of the law, the Court has asked us to remove these documents from public view, so any attempts to access these documents will throw an HTTP 451 error and you are redirected to our access denied page. For example, if you try to read ASTM D3559: Standard Test Methods for Lead in Water -- which is mandated by the authorities in the Code of Federal Regulations (40 CFR 136) and is applicable to the testing of water in communities such as Flint, Michigan—we will not allow you to view this document, neither as a scan of the original paper document, nor as an HTML document with SVG graphics which is accessible to people with visual impairements.

"We regret any inconvenience this may have caused and look forward to judicial resolution of the question 'if a law isn't public, is it a law?'"

TABLE 1:
Number of Times Access Denied
By Law.Resource.Org
(As of December 11, 2016)
DateASTMNFPAASHRAE
2015-11368,10749,9282,098
2015-12306,07537,8031,318
2016-01334,69128,6151,620
2016-02360,50323,5751,837
2016-03349,94530,4037,166
2016-04278,42019,8451,195
2016-05258,44516,4511,108
2016-06265,22915,204741
2016-07290,15918,6391,722
2016-08226,81818,0861,957
2016-09217,04813,236835
2016-10201,06027,709650
2016-11199,83610,483592
2016-1270,1803,902221
Total3,726,516313,87923,060
Total Number of Times Access Denied: 4,063,455

For more information on this issue:

* Steven Levy profiles Carl Malamud, Boing Boing's favorite rogue archivist

* ANSI board member thinks we should all pay for sex (and also pay to read the law)

* Carl Malamud's testimony on copyrighting the law

Notable Replies

  1. Kafka, however, is in the public domain.

  2. Basically, there are safety standards that have been written by corporations, that have then lobbied for them to be put into effect with the force of law. However, those standards remain copyrighted, and are not publicly available.

    So, in effect, there is a law that you can violate, but without paying a bunch of money you are not allowed to know what that law is.

    This causes a major issue with the concept of a free society. If you're allowed to have "secret laws" that you can enforce on people without allowing them to know those laws, you have an easy roadmap to tyranny. You can try say, "it's just technical standards - it's not like the average citizen can be jailed over those." Sure, maybe ... but the issue is that if any law is allowed to be secret, then every law can be made secret.

    But the issue is that these "standards" have been made into law, without the contents of these standards being in the law itself. And, due to the wonders of copyright, ATSM can charge whatever they feel like in order for you to read the "law" they have written. If they're so inclined, they could change prices on their publications to $15,000,000 per page, and those who work in the industries covered by these laws would either have to pay up, or be breaking the law by doing work without meeting the legally-mandated standards.

  3. Their argument is that the costs involved in developing building codes and the like are significant, needing plenty of scientific and engineering resources, and having a relatively limited audience, so how are they supposed to recoup their outlay without being able to charge for their work product? Plus, the price of their I.P. is a drop in the bucket for any significant construction project, so the situation continues without most customers making much of a stink about it.

    Of course, that elides the argument that expenditures in the broad public interest shouldn't be left to market forces. Firefighters don't charge you money before turning on the hoses.

  4. I should have specified "in civilized areas."

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