MacWright on Copyright Barriers to Creating a Free and Open DC Code

Tom MacWright of MapBox has posted You Cannot Have the DC Code, at macwright.org.

Here are excerpts:

You cannot have a digital copy of the DC Code. You cannot have a public domain version of the code, despite it being legally public domain. […]

You cannot. There is no-one to ask who can give you one and who wants to. The government only has copyright-infected copies, and the contractor has no reason to endanger their information monopoly.

To preclude misunderstandings: this is not a failure of the [DC] Council itself. […]

The Council composes and publishes its bills and makes every effort at transparency: this is a failure of the last step, in which the bill is compiled and de-facto owned by a private contractor.

This is not a question of hacking or technology. Writing a scraper for the portal is an afternoon project, but is illegal, and can be construed as a felony by the federal government.

This is a failure of the public/private contracting system and the government’s ability to write strong and precise contracts that are geared for the internet era.

This is a failure of Westlaw and LexisNexis. It’s possibly a reiteration of a well-known court case focused on their previous attempt to do the same thing: monetize what should be a basic unit of democracy.

Next up: how this is possible, what it means, and how we can fix it.

Click here for a storify of some responses to the post.

For more details, please see the complete post.

Ed Walters of Fastcase has written powerfully about this problem in his post, Tear Down This Paywall: The End of Private Copyright in Public Statutes, at VoxPopuLII.

Waldo Jaquith has developed a free and open platform for statutory codes, called The State Decoded.

HT Dan Nagy

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8 Responses to MacWright on Copyright Barriers to Creating a Free and Open DC Code

  1. RT @richards1000 storify http://bit.ly/XqJ30U of some recent discussion of @tmcw ‘s You Cannot Have the DC Code http://bit.ly/11WrnyT #freelaw

  2. RT @carlmalamud All 54 of DC Code master pdf files assembled, running a large Adobe Acrobat batch job to fix scans, do ocr, etc. Release perhaps next week. https://twitter.com/carlmalamud/status/314875596729622528

  3. The Washington Times reports that the DC Council will not sue Public.Resource.Org for copyright infringement for digitizing and posting a copy of the DC Code: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/mar/31/ignorance-of-dcs-copyrighted-laws-can-be-costly/ (shortlink: http://bit.ly/XyK88I )

    HT @carlmalamud https://twitter.com/carlmalamud/status/318543934731218945

  4. Waldo Jaquith has posted a commentary about the digitization & posting of the DC Code: “Washington D.C. and the Work Ahead,” at The State Decoded Blog: http://www.statedecoded.com/2013/03/dc-work-ahead/

    The State Decoded http://www.statedecoded.com/ is Waldo’s free and open platform for legal information and e-participation for U.S. states.

    Excerpt:

    ‘Now that the DC Code has been digitized and posted online [at http://archive.org/details/gov.dc.01.2001 ], ‘all that remains is for somebody to marry this source of data with The State Decoded as, indeed, somebody is already talking about doing. The D.C. Council or WestLaw may not be happy about this—it’s quite possible that one or both entities will take legal action to halt this—but I’m confident that it will be found that the law supports making those very laws public.’

    For more details, please see the complete post.

  5. Tom Lee tells us that Martin Austermuhle has a new post about Carl’s digitization & posting of the DC Code: “Breaking the Law to Publish the Law: Open Government Advocate Digitizes Entirety of D.C. Code,” at DCist: http://dcist.com/2013/03/sitting_in_front_of_me.php

    HT @tjl https://twitter.com/tjl/status/317397340694671361

  6. Tom Lee has posted “The D.C. Code is Open–Come Hack on It!” at Sunlight Foundation Blog: http://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2013/04/04/the-dc-code-is-open-come-hack-on-it/ (shortlink: http://bit.ly/11tMwNS )

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