The US Supreme Court Holds that Georgia can’t Claim Copyright over its Annotated Code

The US Supreme Court has quite recently ruled that Georgia, a state located in the southeastern region of the US, can’t claim the Copyright over its annotated code.

The ruling held by the Supreme Court is a victory for Carl Malamud, who is an American author, technologist, and open government activist. In 2013, he had posted Georgia’s annotated code online. For more than a decade now, Malamud and his corporation, Public.Resource.Org (publishes and shares the public domain material in the US and all across the globe), have been working efficiently to liberate the state laws and regulatory codes digitally.

State governments and related authorities quite often claim that they must copyright the works and creations to recoup the expenses involved in the research and print of voluminous editions. Georgia has a contract with LexisNexis (a corporation specializing in providing business research, legal research, and risk management services) to govern the research work and distribution of the annotated codes. LexisNexis, in turn, gets the exclusive rights corresponding to publishing the codes, while the state gets a cut of any sales made. The non-annotated codes are available at no cost; however, the hardcover annotated set costs $412. The copyright clash stemmed from Georgia’s lawsuit against Public Resource when the non-profit corporation tried to publish the code on its own.

Malamud and other transparency groups say that law can never be copyrighted. They believe that under the “Government edicts doctrine,” the same holds for legislative statutes, judicial opinions, and any other writing corresponding to the force of law. They always say that as per the public policy, people must be able to inspect all the laws that are bound by, and no one can ever claim the ownership or authorship of such laws. To be specific, what they mean to say is that the laws belong to the people.

After Public Resource posted Georgia’s annotated code online for free, the state sued Malamud and his corporation in 2015 in federal court. In 2017, a US District Court judge rendered a decision in favor of Georgia by stating that the annotations only had pieces of commentary and didn’t focus on the force of law. However, after some time, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling, which led to a showdown at the US Supreme Court.

In the US Supreme Court’s majority decision, Chief Justice John Roberts stated that the officials empowered to speak with the force of law can never claim authorship of the works, which they create in due course of their official duties. He further said that even if the annotated codes were non-binding, they were still very much created in the official capacity by the legislative branch, which doesn’t enable the same to seek Copyright Protection.

In a recent statement delivered, Malamud mentioned that he and his corporation are happy with the US Supreme Court’s decision and are now looking forward to making the Official Code of Georgia readily accessible and usable for the citizens. For more visit:

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