Municipal codes of DC, free for all — liberated without permission

Today, I was lucky enough to get another one of rogue archivist Carl Malamud's boxes of awesome. It's a copy of the municipal codes of DC, which are laws that you're required to follow, but aren't allowed to see without paying. As with the last time I got one of these packages, it's because Carl has scanned and OCR'ed and cleaned up these codes, and has now published them for all to see. Here's the unboxing pics.


“No Codification Without Promulgation”

WHEREAS, the District of Columbia has published the OFFICIAL CODE, containing the laws, general and permanent in their nature, relating to or in force in the District of Columbia; and

WHEREAS, the OFFICIAL CODE is only available for purchase for $803.00, plus tax and shipping, from the designated official publisher, the West Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Thomson Reuters Corporation, a foreign corporation; and

WHEREAS, the OFFICIAL CODE contains a prominent notice that the material is “COPYRIGHT 2001 by the District of Columbia” and “All Rights Are Reserved”; and

WHEREAS, the only online version of the OFFICIAL CODE available to the public is accessible from the official publisher, which limits access through outdated technical mechanisms and poor design, such as a lack of a permanent Internet address (“permalink”), and further limits access through terms of use which prohibit the public from making copies of the code; and

WHEREAS, in a nation governed by the rule of law and founded on the principles of freedom of expression, due process, and equal protection, people must have the right to freely read, know, and speak the laws by which we as a people choose to govern ourselves; and

WHEREAS, the Supreme Court of the United States has unequivocally ruled that the law cannot be subject to copyright in Wheaton v. Peters (33 U.S. 591, 1834), when the Court unanimously held that “no reporter has or can have any copyright in the written opinions delivered” by the Court; and

WHEREAS, the Supreme Court of the United States has repeatedly reaffirmed this principle, stating for example in Banks v. Manchester (128 U.S. 244, 1888) that “the authentic exposition and interpretation of the law, which, binding every citizen, is free for publication to all, whether it is a declaration of unwritten law, or an interpretation of a constitution or a statute”; and

WHEREAS, the United States Copyright Office has unequivocally stated “Edicts of government, such as judicial opinions, administrative rulings, legislative enactments, public ordinances, and similar official legal documents are not copyrightable for reasons of public policy. This applies to such works whether they are Federal, State, or local as well as to those of foreign governments.”

THEREFORE, it is hereby proclaimed by this notice that any assertion of copyright by the District of Columbia or other parties on the District of Columbia Code is declared to be NULL AND VOID as a matter of law and public 
policy as it is the right of every person to read, know, and speak the laws that bind them.

By the People and For the People on March 25, 2013

Even though ignorance of the law is no excuse, the District of Columbia laws are highly restricted. The
official copy costs $803, copyright is claimed by the
District with ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, and the only on-line version available to the public is a
totally awful site that won't
let you go to a section of the code, has no permalinks, and times out after 5 minutes of no activity.
In an effort to bring the law to the people, Public.Resource.Org bought the official code, scanned it,
and has made it available on the net. A gaudy box including a thumb drive with the scanned copy and a
PROCLAMATION OF DIGITIZATION, were sent to the District of Columbia Codification Counsel. The box
was festooned with rubber stamps of radical sayings like "DUE PROCESS!" and "EQUAL PROTECTION!" Copies
of the box were also sent to prominent members of the mainstream media, including (of course) our friends at Boing Boing.

Developers who work in open government may wish to pay attention to the subdirectory
text.for.apps which includes full text for
Title 1 and a powerpoint presentation explaining how the code was retrieved. We're
hoping innovation will flourish with new ways of looking at the code once the laws are let out of their walled
garden and allowed to roam free in our nation's capitol.

Source code for this release is on
You may also view this material on the Internet Archive.
Low-cost print editions of select volumes are available on Lulu.
A nice post on this subject was written by Tom MacWright.
Pictures of the box construction are available on Flickr.