Carl Malamud strikes in California

Nathan Halverson, He’s giving you access, one document at a time, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, September 3, 2008.  Excerpt:

California’s building codes, plumbing standards and criminal laws can be found online.

But if you want to download and save those laws to your computer, forget it.

The state claims copyright to those laws. It dictates how you can access and distribute them — and therefore how much you’ll have to pay for print or digital copies.

It forbids people from storing or distributing its laws without consent.

That doesn’t sit well with Carl Malamud, a Sebastopol resident with an impressive track record of pushing for digital access to public information. He wants California — and every other federal, state and local agency — to drop their copyright claims on law, contending it will pave the way for innovators to create new ways of searching and presenting laws.

"When it comes to the law, the courts have always said there can be no copyright because people are obligated to know what it says," Malamud said. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse in court."

Malamud is spoiling for a major legal fight.

He has begun publishing copies of federal, state and county codes online — in direct violation of claimed copyright.

On Labor Day, he posted the entire 38-volume California Code of Regulations, which includes all of the state’s regulations from health care and insurance to motor vehicles and investment.

To purchase a digital copy of the California code costs $1,556, or $2,315 for a printed version. The state generates about $880,000 annually by selling its laws, according to the California Office of Administrative Law….

PS:  For background, see our past posts on Malamud’s heroic efforts to provide OA to public domain information, including the documents of US law. 

Also see our past posts on the Veeck case, the tendency of building codes to be written by industry lobbies and copyrighted, and the Supreme Court’s refusal to review a Fifth Circuit decision that, qua public law, those codes are in the public domain even if, qua proposals of private organizations, they are not.

Update (9/4/08).  Excerpt from Free Government Information:

Code city is now open and the readme file is a graphic novel (view it as a Flickr slideshow here!) explaining the travesty of state and local codes being copyrighted rather than in the public domain and freely available online. Code city included full-text scans of 43 state codes — including the entire California Title 24 Safety Codes! — and several city codes (Little Rock, Denver, Phoenix, Wilmington, Honolulu, St Louis, Las Vegas)….