Bruce on GitLaw

Tom Bruce of the Legal Information Institute has posted GitHub: It Ain’t Magic Pixie Dust, at his blog, b-screeds.

Here are excerpts:

These days, people are sticking legislation into GitHub at a furious pace. It is all the rage among the legal-information smart set. […]

Trouble is, I’m not so just in love with gittification as everybody else seems to be. Here’s why:

Git and GitHub are, collectively, a fine revision-control system, and a good system for distributing and managing open-source coding efforts like the ones at Unfortunately, straightforward revision and versioning are not really what happens with most legislation hereabouts. American Federal legislation is not a straightforward revision process at all. That is especially so when post-hoc codification results in an issue-centric bill being splattered all over the topical map of the US Code. Other jurisdictions — notably civil-law countries — at least pretend to have a more rational process for legislative revision, though I am told that in practice it is not so pretty as all that. They are, by and large, having some success with FRBR-based models which closely resemble revisions control, but for a number of reasons those don’t work as well as they might for Federal legislation. Simple processes in which a single version of text is successively modified and the modifications absorbed into a series of versions and branches are not quite enough to map the eddies and backwaters of our process, in which multiple competing drafts of a bill can exist at the same time, bills can be reintroduced in later sessions, and so on.

I am far from the first person to make this point. Others have done so very effectively right along, but the story does not end there. The beauties of revision management do not explain why we are hearing so much git-love. There must be more to be just in love with than the idea that you might keep track of changes in the language of a bill.

I think there are three pieces to it, really. One is the idea that somehow the gittification paradigm describes what the system *ought* to be, and represents the aspirations of its proponents; one is the idea that putting law in github somehow magically puts ownership of the law where it belongs; and one is the idea that gittification is somehow democratizing. […]

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