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Georgia Copyrighted Its Own Laws. Now, It’s Suing a Nonprofit Group for Publishing Them.

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It’s almost like they don’t want people to know the law. Georgia has copyrighted its laws, and a court recently held that copyright to be valid. That means Georgians who want to know the laws under which they are governed must pay a fee in order to access them.

How does Georgia’s legal code not fall into the public domain? The Court held that the annotations in the published version make it copyrightable material. But as Amy Swearer explains, the court is overlooking some key facts:

Unlike other annotated legal publications registered by the Copyright Office, these annotations comprise Georgia’s only official legal code. This is not a supplementary text authored by a private entity, but the sole publication authorized by the state Legislature for promulgation of its laws.

The agreement between Georgia and LexisNexis explicitly “requires the official code to include not only the statutory provisions, but also annotations … and other materials.” Furthermore, Georgia—not LexisNexis—maintains the ultimate right of editorial control over the code, and the entire code becomes state property upon publication.

The state Legislature, in OCGA § 1-1-1, describes the code as including annotations, analyses, and other materials. In that same section, it decrees that the full body of the code is “published by authority of the state … and may be cited as the ‘Official Code of Georgia Annotated.’”

The free unannotated code even utilizes a disclaimer, stating that the Official Code of Georgia Annotated is the authoritative version that takes precedence over any discrepancies in the free version. […]

It’s with good reason that Georgia only recognizes the Official Code of Georgia Annotated as its official law: The unannotated code is an unreliable reference. The unannotated code often provides severely limited—and sometimes blatantly incorrect—information regarding what is or is not legal.

Only the full annotated code explains that certain statutes (like the crime of sodomy) are unconstitutional and unenforceable, and provides the dates of enforcement for recently enacted or amended statutes.

Only the full code references official interpretations that state courts have treated as authoritative on issues (Moore v. Ray), and that sometimes drastically affect which actions will be deemed illegal for purposes of prosecution.

For example, the unannotated code does not, in contrast to the official annotated code, inform a person that the Attorney General’s Office considers the unauthorized anchoring of boats in a state park to be criminal trespass, or that the prohibition on carrying a firearm at a public gathering does not apply to shopping malls.

Because the entirety of the official code constitutes “law” both in purpose and in practice, it cannot be copyrighted by the government. Since its 1834 holding in Wheaton v. Peters, the Supreme Court has made clear that allowing governments to copyright laws is “absurd.” [The Daily Signal]

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