Gnorance of D.C.AAEs Copyrighted Laws Can Be Costly

Article excerpt


Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but those who want to ensure theyAAEre in compliance with the DistrictAAEs laws must obtain them from a private company owned by a foreign conglomerate.

The District is one of several states that assert copyright on their laws, forbidding others from publishing them. Some states cede the rights to for-profit legal publishing companies such as WestLaw, but the D.C. Council has copyrighted them itself, putting anyone who dares make the laws of the land available at risk of a $150,000 fine.

That gives WestLaw a monopoly on the D.C. Code, leaving residents and businesses who need to know its regulations two options: Pay $803 for a 23-volume bible of regulations or view sections of the law on WestLawAAEs website. The laws are not available from the District itself, much less from others who might analyze and publish them in more user-friendly formats.

The prospect of a fine didnAAEt deter Carl Malamud, an Internet pioneer who believes the law belongs to the public. He wasnAAEt content with merely advocating for a policy change: A mentor of Aaron Swartz, the technology wunderkind who sent sorrow through the Internet community this year when he hanged himself while facing decades in prison for attempting to free scholarly articles from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology server, Mr. Malamud took it upon himself to break the copyright himself, paying the $803, scanning each page and making them available online for free Au with the line on each page asserting copyright crossed out.

It violates the copyright law if they have a valid copyright, but just because they say they have copyright doesnAAEt mean itAAEs valid, Mr. Malamud said. "I sent a notice to the codification council to let them know weAAEre not sneaking around, weAAEre doing this affirmatively, and they never returned my call.

ThereAAEs not a lot of states Au Georgia, Wyoming, Colorado, Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho Au that assert copyright, and sometimes they have an online version like D.C. does where you can see the law but only with one really bad website, he said. ItAAEs the issue of freedom to read the law but also to speak the law and build a better iPhone app.

In 2008, Oregon sent cease and desist letters to a website publishing the stateAAEs laws online. So I got it and put it up myself and let them know just to put our belly up to the bar, Mr. …