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Victory at the Supreme Court in Georgia v Public.Resource.Org

The Supreme Court released its opinion today in the case Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, finding that the annotations in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) are not subject to copyright. Georgia and other states that let private companies annotate and publish their state laws can no longer claim copyright in the annotated versions if those annotations were added by legislative bodies, which the Court finds are not “authors” under the Copyright Act. 

“This is a major victory for public access to the law,” said Lisa Hayes, Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) Interim Co-CEO. “For years, many states have used annotations to justify copyright, effectively putting walls around access to the law. CDT believes this is incorrect. People must have the right to anonymously access the law, without needing to pay hundreds of dollars. This morning, the Court confirmed that neither states nor private companies can own the law. The copyright walls come down today.”

This case helps determine who “owns” the law.  As the process currently stands, the Georgia legislature drafts and votes to approve the text of the Georgia state code, or the laws governing the state. But the state legislature, in conjunction with a private publisher, annotates the state code with information such as citations to relevant court opinions, and considers those annotations part of the official law of Georgia. The publisher is then given an exclusive license by Georgia to publish the OCGA, which it sells for more than $400. As a result, individuals wanting to know more about the official law in Georgia must either pay the private publisher hundreds of dollars for a printed copy of the laws of the state, or accept the private publisher’s substantial terms of service and privacy policy in order to access a version of the code online. 

In partnership with the Cato Institute, CDT filed an amicus brief in the case urging the Supreme Court to find that “edicts of government” should not be subject to copyright, regardless of who drafts or annotates them, because everyone should be able to access the law and no one should own it. There is nothing more fundamental to a healthy democracy than encouraging its people to understand and know the law. This morning, the Supreme Court agreed.