Can You Own The Law? Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org- Ep. 22 [Podcast]
In this episode of Stuff You Should Know About IP, Thomas Colson and Raymond Guarnieri discuss a copyright infringement case between Public.Resource.Org (“PRO”) and the state of Georgia that was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States. An unofficial, unannotated version of the Code of Georgia is freely available, but citizens must pay to obtain the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (“OCGA”). Georgia’s Code Revision Commission contracted LexisNexis to annotate its state code with information that can make it easier for citizens to understand the law, such as summaries, references to caselaw, or references to relevant articles. Georgia sued PRO for copyright infringement after PRO’s Carl Malamud published the OCGA, the official version that contained annotations from LexisNexis, on the PRO website; Malamud also copied the OCGA onto a thumb drive, and he sent it to several members of the Georgia legislature. Georgia won in the federal district court, but PRO appealed that decision, and the Eleventh Circuit sided with PRO. The case eventually went before the Supreme Court of the United States, which sided with PRO. Under the Government Edicts Doctrine, when legislators or judges are empowered to speak with the force of law, any works they produce in furtherance of their legislative or judicial duties are not copyrightable, because they cannot be authors in the copyright sense. The Supreme Court was divided 5-4, with the majority composed of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh; meanwhile, Justices Thomas, Alito, Breyer, and Ginsburg dissented. In the Court’s Opinion, Chief Justice Roberts noted the importance of knowing that certain laws that still appear in the Code of Georgia have been declared unconstitutional by courts, and this would only be known from the annotated version.