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Can Law Be Copyrighted?

By zavyman in News
Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 02:04:05 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)

On June 7, 2002, The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a surprising opinion on the question of the copyright status of laws. Most laws in the state are public domain, and usually offered online, but anyone who's ever wanted to do some home improvements and verify their legal status online are typically mystified: the building codes are conspicuously missing.

Enter Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI). Other circuits (including the 5th) had long held in different circumstances that private organizations can retain copyrights on laws that jurisdictions adopt. But this en banc ruling made it clear that law is a public resource. FindLaw summarizes the case: "In a private code-writing organization's claim against a website operator for posting the text of a model building code, when model codes have been adopted by a legislative body and become law, they enter the public domain and are not subject to copyright protection as 'law.' However, as model codes, the organization's works retain their protected status under copyright."

Peter Veeck individually operates Regional Web", a non-commercial website that provides information about north Texas. Sometime in 1997, Veeck decided to post on Regional Web the local building codes of Anna and Savoy, two small towns in north Texas that had adopted the 1994 edition of the Standard Building Code written by appellee, Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. ("SBCCI"). Veeck made a few attempts to inspect several towns' copies of the Building Code, but he was not able to locate them easily. Eventually, Veeck purchased the 1994 model building codes directly from SBCCI; he paid $72.00 and received a copy of the codes on disk. Although the software licensing agreement and copyright notice indicated that the codes could not be copied and distributed, Veeck cut and pasted their text onto his Regional Web. Veeck's website did not specify that the codes were written by SBCCI. Instead, he identified them, correctly, as the building codes of Anna and Savoy, Texas.

Who is the SBCCI, and how are they copyrighting laws?

The author of the codes, SBCCI, is a non-profit organization consisting of approximately 14,500 members from government bodies, the construction industry, business and trade associations, students, and colleges and universities. Since 1940, SBCCI's primary mission has been to develop, promote, and promulgate model building codes, such as the Standard Plumbing Code, the Standard Gas Code, the Standard Fire Prevention Code, and the Standard Mechanical Code. SBCCI encourages local government entities to enact its codes into law by reference, without cost to the governmental entity. No licensing agreements are executed in connection with legislative adoption, nor does SBCCI keep track of the entities that have adopted its codes. Although SBCCI is a non-profit organization, its annual budget, exceeding $9 million, derives in part from sales of its model codes and is used to fund continuing activities. There are no restrictions or requirements on membership in SBCCI, but non-members are charged considerably more for copies of its codes than are members.

Now, it is not the case that the laws are unaccessible to the public. A trip down to the city hall or town hall or even the library would be sufficient to track down the building code and verify whatever it is you wanted to know. This case is about whether or not citizens can have their own copies of the law to reference from easily. Other circuits have gone against building code copyright infringers, because SBCCI's copyright restrictions are not excessive, and indeed appear to be quite necessary to fund the process of creating and maintaining those codes.

Still, Peter Veeck decided that he would do his community a service by making the codes available to them online. He was trying to make sure that people did not violate the laws of the towns, but in January of 1998, the SBCCI indicated by way of a "cease and desist" that he should no longer publish them. He ignored it, and continued to offer them up online. The SBCCI filed suit.

For U.S. District Court Judge David Folsom, the case was trivial. No court had ever held, directly or indirectly, that being entered into law voided copyright status of any document. In March 1999, he ordered summary judgment permanently enjoining Veeck from further copyright infringement. Naturally, Veeck appealed.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals did not waver from the standards in other circuits already decided, and on Feburary 2, 2001, affirmed the district court's ruling.

We do not dismiss lightly the policy considerations supporting Veeck's position; yet, limited to the narrow set of facts before us, we perceive the scale of countervailing policy considerations to be tipped in favor of enforcing SBCCI's copyright.

We reiterate for emphasis that no court has held to the contrary.

We are further comforted in reaching this balancing result by the agreement of the leading treatise on the subject that to strip a copyright owner of his rights when his work is adopted by a state legislature would "prove destructive of the copyright interest in encouraging creativity in connection with the increasing trend toward state and federal adoptions of model codes."

For Veeck, all hope might seem to have been lost, except for one last attempt to get an enbanc hearing by the 5th Circuit Court. On September 27, 2001, the court filed a brief document entitled "On Petition For Rehearing En Banc", with the full text:

A member of the Court in active service having requested a poll on the petition for rehearing en banc and a majority of the judges in active service having voted in favor of granting a rehearing en banc,

IT IS ORDERED that this cause shall be reheard by the court en banc with oral argument on a date hereafter to be fixed. The Clerk will specify a briefing schedule for the filing of supplemental briefs.

Fast forward to to early June 2002, when the court reversed and remanded the previous ruling to the lower court. Emphasizing the Banks decision which held that judges hold no copyright claims to their respective decisions, the court explains:

We disagree that the question of public access can be limited to the minimum availability that SBCCI would permit. Banks does not use the term "due process." There is also no suggestion that the Banks concept of free access to the law is a factual determination or is limited to due process, as the term is understood today. Instead, public ownership of the law means precisely that "the law" is in the "public domain" for whatever use the citizens choose to make of it. Citizens may reproduce copies of the law for many purposes, not only to guide their actions but to influence future legislation, educate their neighborhood association, or simply to amuse. If a citizen wanted to place an advertisement in a newspaper quoting the Anna, Texas building code in order to indicate his dissatisfaction with its complexities, it would seem that he could do so. In our view, to say, as Banks does, that the law is "free for publication to all" is to expand, not factually limit, the extent of its availability.

Moreover, as the BOCA decision observed, it is difficult to reconcile the public's right to know the law with the statutory right of a copyright holder to exclude his work from any publication or dissemination. SBCCI responds that due process must be balanced against its proprietary rights and that the fair use doctrine as well as its honorable intentions will prevent abuse. Free availability of the law, by this logic, has degenerated into availability as long as SBCCI chooses not to file suit.

The Supreme Court will no doubt have to hear this case or a case like it in the near future, as differing districts now have different binding precedents. Additionally, as the Supreme Court approaches Eldred v. Ashcroft it appears that they might have something further to consider: the public domain has become of ever-increasing importance since the dawn of the digital information age.


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Related Links
o opinion
o Regional Web"
o summary judgment
o affirmed
o On Petition For Rehearing En Banc
o Eldred v. Ashcroft
o Also by zavyman

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Can Law Be Copyrighted? | 103 comments (79 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
Supreme Court & Law Copyright (4.33 / 9) (#11)
by duxup on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 04:49:51 AM EST

I recall a case not too long ago that went before the US Supreme Court where the company that publishes US Supreme Court rulings was copyrighting the rulings as the court handed them down, and thus were the only people allowed to publish and sell those rulings.

That company lost the case and it was determined they could not copyright the US Supreme Court's rulings.  In a great twist of irony had to publish the loss, no longer copyrighted.

Of course, every case is somewhat different, but it might be an indicator of things to come.  Unfortunately, I can not find a link to that story any more.  It was a few years ago.

West Publishing (4.50 / 2) (#18)
by Bad Harmony on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 07:23:33 AM EST

HyperLaw v. West Publishing Company ?

5440' or Fight!
[ Parent ]

Possibly. (5.00 / 2) (#24)
by haflinger on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 09:35:54 AM EST

However, Bender v. West (that case's real name) never went before the Supreme Court. You can find the two decisions of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals here and here. Certiorari was denied by the Supreme Court in both those decisions, which is normally taken as indicating that the Supremes agree with the Circuit decision. But it's not binding; no principle of stare decisis is created when cert is denied.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]
I dont think law should be copyrighted.(+1)FP (3.00 / 5) (#15)
by johwsun on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 05:44:51 AM EST

Where is the poll on this article?

Blah (4.00 / 2) (#16)
by inerte on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 05:48:09 AM EST

Looks like isn't online anymore, but you should have had a look at The Onion's Factual Error Found On Internet article.

  Or not, whatever, I might be teling you lies anyway.

Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.

This quandry always chapped me. (4.50 / 2) (#23)
by acceleriter on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 09:09:39 AM EST

And it can be solved by having all the governments that adopt these codes unaltered fund a consortium to pay for their writing, once, each time they're updated, rather than supporting what appears to be an extortion racket against the building trades.

Off balance sheet accounting (4.00 / 1) (#43)
by Alan Crowe on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 04:50:59 AM EST

Here is an alternative critique.

Ordinarily government employs bureaucrats to write laws and regulations, and this is funded out of general taxation. As government becomes more intrusive, the cost of this becomes embarrassing. So have a not-for-profit corporation write the building regulations and have the authors salaries paid by using copyright on the regulations to raise the selling price way above the cost of printing.

Joe Public still pays the wages of the bureaucrats, because the government forces him to do so, but now it is via copyright law rather than taxes. So it is off the government `balance sheet' and pseudo-small-government politicians can claim they have reduced taxes and fired bureaucrats, when all they have really done is to undermine the integrity of the public accounts.

[ Parent ]

That's an interesting angle (none / 0) (#55)
by acceleriter on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 02:37:07 PM EST

and gets me to thinking about the "Crown Copyright" that exists in the UK. Any UK citizens have comments on that? (AFAIK there, laws, including Acts of Parliament, are subject to that copyright and can't just be copied or posted by any citizen. I take instruction well, so if I'm wrong, be gentle.)

[ Parent ]
Crown Copyright... (5.00 / 1) (#64)
by hotseat on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 06:34:10 PM EST

...and Parliamentary Copyright (similar, not identical) apply to most public documents in the UK. They are administered by , with printed copies sold by the privatised . The terms of reproduction are not usually onerous, though - for example, the copyright statement from the . In particular, most Command papers and all Acts are accessible in full-text from the HMSO site, and Bills from . All Bills and Acts can explicitly be copied. Only the Royal Arms and the Queen's Printer imprint are not allowed to be reproduced - presumably so it's clear which is the "official" copy. HTH, Tom

[ Parent ]
Ack! Browser bug... (5.00 / 1) (#65)
by hotseat on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 06:38:53 PM EST

Sorry, it ate my URLs and formatting :-(

That should have been ...administered by Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

...printed copies sold by the privatised The Stationery Office Limited

...the copyright statement from the Department for Work and Pensions website.

and ...Bills from Parliament itself.

Sorry for that!


[ Parent ]

Propose ridiculous law, get rich (5.00 / 10) (#26)
by FlipFlop on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 10:56:21 AM EST

I agree with the court that law belongs in the public domain. However, I don't think the court went far enough. The court specifically allowed copyrights on proposed laws. To me, this is exactly when public domain is most critical.

Suppose we allow authors to copyright the law. MegaCorp proposes a law that will give them a multibillion dollar contract. Shocked after reading the law, people email copies to their friends. Congress gets the message and decides to reject the law. Can MegaCorp sue on the grounds that widespread distribution of their copyrighted material cost them a contract? How about suing because they missed out on the $2000 royalty they charge for each copy?

AdTI - The think tank that didn't

Quasi-off-topic observation. (3.66 / 3) (#31)
by jabber on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 01:40:38 PM EST

Ok, as I understand this, a law which requires you to observerules in a copyrighted document cited by reference, requires you to purchase a copy of the document or spend money on 'expert evaluation', because you have no other (legal) means of assuring yourself of adhering to the practice laid out in such document.


To me, this seems not entirely unlike the government requiring me to carry car insurance, without providing me the means of fulfilling this requirement.

I have no solution to either situation, but think that in both cases the government is flirting with RICO violations.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

So the government can't make you do anything? (2.00 / 1) (#35)
by rastafarii on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 04:58:01 PM EST

so you don't have to feed and support your child because the government does not pay you money to do so?

so you don't have to register and smog check your car which the government also requires, because you can't afford it?

[only true if you are an illegal mexican driving an old beater car with no license, insurance and hasn't had a tune up in 17 years... then it's ok, like felons not having to obey gun control laws since they're not supposed to own them in the first place.]

[ Parent ]

Due process and equal protection (5.00 / 1) (#37)
by FlipFlop on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 09:26:55 PM EST

a law which requires you to observerules in a copyrighted document cited by reference, requires you to purchase a copy of the document or spend money on 'expert evaluation', because you have no other (legal) means of assuring yourself of adhering to the practice laid out in such document.

In the earlier appellate ruling, the court ruled that your due process rights are not violated because you can go down to city hall (or wherever there is a copy of the law) and read it for free.

Even if you couldn't read the law for free, it's still comparable to taxes. The government can force you to pay taxes. Why can't it force you to buy a copy of the law.

On the other hand, if congress requires you to buy a copy of the law, that would seem to violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. It effectively means, you have to pay a tax to the author. There is no bidding process to give everyone an equal shot at collecting the tax. That would be like congress writing a law that names FlipFlop as the recipient of a multi-million dollar contract. Also the author doesn't have to pay the tax.

AdTI - The think tank that didn't
[ Parent ]

Thats not how it works (none / 0) (#49)
by X3nocide on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 09:53:46 AM EST

In this situation, the legislative authority chose to delegate the building codes to a unelected body, because lawyers make poor bricklayers. Reasoning that quality engineers need financial incentive to create quality law, the legislature opts not to print or sell that law, assigning copyright to the construction body that created the laws. Said body then gets to make profits from the sales of the law, not the government ala taxes.

General law books is another copyright barrel of monkeys, which I don't fully understand myself. Also, congress actually has to pass laws in order to allow FlipFlop to sue the government, they even specify the amount he can sue for. Does this violate the 14th amendment?

[ Parent ]

IANAL, but this is not a big deal (1.80 / 5) (#32)
by xah on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 02:46:57 PM EST

IANAL. I am not a lawyer. If you need legal advice, consult an attorney.

In the US, judicial opinions usually cite other judicial opinions and statutes. Both judicial opinions and statutues are public domain. Sometimes judicial opinions cite books, novels, magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, or other writings. Sometimes private organizations publish a set of codes that look like it could be legal. These are often called model codes. Let's say a telecommunications non-profit organization did this. They would hold the copyright on the code. If a legislature, or Congress took the model code, or part of it, and made it into a statute, then that statute would be public domain. This is not controversial.

If Joe's Press wants to print something, and they're not sure of the legal issues, they should consult an attorney.

I am not a lawyer. If you need legal advice, consult an attorney.

You need to pay attention more. (none / 0) (#62)
by porkchop_d_clown on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 05:15:27 PM EST

There's a company (Findlaw?) that has a monopoly on the printing of court decisions in the USA and has filed similar suits as this against people who published collections of court decisions.

Their argument (which has some merit) is that since they did all the work reading the transcripts and organizing them, people shouldn't be permitted to simply convert their bound volumes into web pages.

I feel like I've lived my live in screensaver mode....

[ Parent ]
Bullshit. (none / 0) (#71)
by Work on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 11:26:01 PM EST

I've got me a massive tome called "Constitutional Law" sitting on my desk. The publishing co is 'Foundation Press'.

[ Parent ]
HyperLaw V. West Publishing Co. (none / 0) (#73)
by porkchop_d_clown on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 11:33:26 PM EST

See my previous comment.

I feel like I've lived my live in screensaver mode....

[ Parent ]
Foundation Press (none / 0) (#91)
by xah on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 10:19:51 PM EST

Remember, I'm not a lawyer.

Foundation Press is a subsidiary of West Group. West Group is not affiliated (I think) with Findlaw. Thus, you are right.

[ Parent ]

copyrighted court decisions (none / 0) (#76)
by brouhaha on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 03:43:02 AM EST

The issue isn't the court decisions themselves, which are public domain. One of the companies that prints them organizes them into book form and in the process assigns page numbers. They have successfully claimed that the page numbers are copyrighted.

Unfortunately, the format that courts want for citations includes these page numbers. Thus this particular publisher effectively has a monopoly on publishing the court decisions.

This seems to me to fail one of the usual criteria for copyright because the page numbers are not a creative work, they are just sequential numbers. The court decisions aren't even organized in any special way that gives the page numbers more meaning.

The page numbers could be (and probably are) assigned by a computer. No one could credibly claim that this process involves any creativity.

Effectively the page numbers are just "facts", which cannot normally be copyrighted. For example, courts have ruled that telephone directories can't be copyrighted.

Tom Clancy can't use copyright law to sue Stephen King if they both happen to write books in which the antagonist is killed on page 463.

Aside from getting the ruling on the page number copyright overturned, which probably isn't going to happen, the best fix would be for the courts to assign identifiers useful for citations themselves, rather than leaving it to a third party, and to accept citations using them.

[ Parent ]

oops (none / 0) (#77)
by brouhaha on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 03:51:00 AM EST

Apparently I was mistaken, the court ruled that West could NOT copyright the page numbers. Apparently that resulted in West trying to push the database bills through Congress, which would have legalized copyrighting collections of facts with no original creative content.

[ Parent ]
I made the same mistake (none / 0) (#79)
by porkchop_d_clown on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 09:09:53 AM EST

Until I reviewed the information yesterday, I thought West had won that case, too.

I feel like I've lived my live in screensaver mode....

[ Parent ]
Copyright Necessary to maintain the code? (4.77 / 9) (#33)
by PresJPolk on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 02:47:30 PM EST

We have a source of funding for maintenance of laws already - the Government.  The Government pays legislators and staffers, and they maintain the laws.

In fact, a fundamental concept in our republican form of government is that our elected officials write our laws.  We don't need some special interest group dictating laws and then restricting people from distributing them.  If government funding is good enough for murder laws, it's good enough for plumbing, too.

A public policy based reversal. Good nonetheless (4.75 / 8) (#34)
by hillct on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 02:59:34 PM EST

You don't often see public policy based reversals but that's exactly what we see here. The opinion is well supported though. Particularly interesting were the items relating to the utility of copyright regulation in promoting standardization in law. This was the argument of SBCCI and was torn to shreads in the opinion. The argument went that, public policy codewriting organizations would not exist without the financial incentives offered through copyright.

The opinion included the esentiall obvious observation that the financial incentives of public ocdes writing organizations to continue their word are not based on copyright but in the advantages to their members of having direct incluence in the establsihment of regulations relating to the business activities of their membership.

Such organizations as the SBCCI are simply particularly effective lobbying organizations that trade on their granfathered-in status to serve the interests of their membership.

Once the rather tenuous arguments made by SBCCI ere torn down, the case became a simple matter of public policy. Is it in the best interest of the Amereican people to be denied access to the codes under which they live? The answer pretty much goes without saying.

This opinion fails to resolve one issue. The opinion allows organizations such as the SBCCI to retain copyright on the model codes they offer but not the laws that enact the codes (which nessecerily include copies of the codes themselves). The question is, at what point is copyright privilege terminated? Must the law be enacted or simply proposed. Will this opinion allow codes such as this to become part of the congressional record prior to passage into law?

I read the opinion reasonably carefully, but am still unclear on this point? Can anyone shed some light on this?


--Got Lists? | Top 31 Signs Your Spouse Is A Spy
Law is Public, Book of Model is Not (3.33 / 3) (#44)
by SEWilco on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 08:26:17 AM EST

The decision says that the law is public domain. It does not say that the author loses their copyright. So the author can use their text again in a different book which is 99% the same -- and others can not copy that different book unless it becomes law. So "The Making of 1998 Model Plumbing Code" would still be protected by copyright. Copiers have to make sure they copy from the item which was made public.

The author's publisher of texts which are "included by reference" will have to keep those in print, because if they become unavailable then they'll lose business as laws are changed to reference other texts. Although others can now publish the laws, the original publisher will still have business from people who want to make sure they get the real laws.

Remember, "public domain" means anyone can do anything with it. Anyone can print a new version with changes in the text. So there will be a matter of trust involved in the decision of where to buy a copy of the laws.

[ Parent ]

The MD5 Checksum Of This Law (3.00 / 1) (#46)
by SEWilco on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 08:34:30 AM EST

I wonder if laws adopted by reference will now include an MD5 checksum to help confirm that one has the correct text. With the publishers including the checksum in their books so one can check it. Of course, it is more convenient to recalculate it from an electronic edition than from the print edition.

[ Parent ]
You're paranoid, aren't you? (5.00 / 1) (#75)
by DavidTC on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 11:46:12 PM EST

You are aware that companies couldn't sell something that proposes to be the law for a certain place, but not actually be the law, without being sued out of existence, right?

Normal people call that fraud.

Oh, and it doesn't matter where you copy the public domain text from. It's perfectly legal to copy public domain works out from the middle of copyrighted things, as long as you don't use their arangement or any of the other things that can be copyrighted and aren't exactly the same as the original. I can sit here and type in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland from a book published in 1996, and as long as I leave off any non-original text, images, formatting, etc, it's legal. (Can't photocopy it, though, because the layout on the pages might be copyrighted.)

And the whole 'changing one character makes it copyrightable' isn't usually right, either. If the change couldn't be copyrighted by itself, it can't be copyrighted just by being a change to a PD work. You can't copyright a single character, a word, or even a sentence, and you can't append a PD work to those and copyright them anyway.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]

A few questions of my own (1.00 / 1) (#38)
by Work on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 10:48:13 PM EST

Did the website author copy ONLY the parts of the code that his town had adopted, or the whole works of which were published by SBCCI? It sounds to me like he copied those wholesale.

To put this another way, lets say for some reason legislation decides to quote a tom clancy book, that is no reason to publish the entire book on the web. That is a clear violation of copyright.

Yes and yes. (5.00 / 1) (#41)
by Rhinobird on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 12:55:22 AM EST

If a law was passed that quoted Tom Clancy, then he could and should be able to, republish that law (with the quote) for whatever reason he wants. Though, he won't be able to reproduce the whole of the Clancy work that the quote comes from. He did copy the whole of the SBCCI code, but then again, the town adopted the whole flipping code. So what's your point?
"If Mr. Edison had thought more about what he was doing, he wouldn't sweat as much." --Nikola Tesla
[ Parent ]
i still havent seen what the town did (none / 0) (#52)
by Work on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 12:19:07 PM EST

I find it hard to believe that the town took the whole of the code and everything in it (I have never read one of these code books, but I imagine it has more information in it besides building codes in legalese), whereas this man took the SBCCI book and just copied the entire thing. If you could point or quote something that describes how the town put this to use, it'd be helpful as I didn't see anything in the ruling clarifying that. Maybe I just missed it.

As for the tom clancy thing, you just rephrased my point. Yes, the law can be published if it contains a copyrighted quote. However that does not give you the right to publish the entire work that the quote came from.

[ Parent ]

The work is the law. (none / 0) (#66)
by mold on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 07:44:44 PM EST

The copyrighted work is the law. The group makes laws, copyrights them, and allows anyone to use the law, word for word. When the town adopted the the law, they most likely adopted the whole law. In otherwords, the whole work. They are one and the same.

If I made a law, "No one can run upstairs." and you wanted to use it, you wouldn't just take, "No one ... upstairs." They wouldn't be the same, nor would that even make any sense.

Beware of peanuts! There's a 0.00001% peanut fatality rate in the USA alone! You could be next!
[ Parent ]

links, text please... (none / 0) (#69)
by Work on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 09:20:49 PM EST

I'd like a link or quote from the court opinion (I browsed it, did not see it..perhaps i missed it) that says the town adopted the entire work, word for word, unparaphrasing. Better yet, a side-by-side comparison of the two would be nice.

I believe that the copyrighted work would contain text beyond the legalese that the law would include. Most likely some kind of explanation.

Indeed, how did the company know the man was committing a copyright violation if the town law was exactly the same word for word? That does not make sense.

[ Parent ]

Everyone missed this the first time it was here. (4.00 / 1) (#74)
by DavidTC on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 11:36:12 PM EST

The company claims a copyright on the text of the law. They wrote the wording, and it was passed into law verbatim. There is no difference between the text of the law and what the company is claiming copyright over.

In a technical sense, they haven't copyrighted the 'law', because the law merely controls how you behavior, not the explict wording. If he were to rewrite the end code to 'mean' the same thing, it would be legal. Except that courts go by the actual wording of the law, and have ever since they started writing laws down.

So, while 'the law' isn't copyrighted, an expression of the law is, and that's the one you have to follow, because that expression is what defines the law.

-David T. C.
Yes, my email address is real.
[ Parent ]

How about law patents? :) (4.00 / 2) (#39)
by Mysidia on Sat Jun 15, 2002 at 10:59:36 PM EST

So California [or <insert other state>] comes up with some brand new, neat, super-cool innovative law and patents the idea so any other states adopting the law have to get a license that involves royalties or risk being sued over patent infringment

You suppose the PTO would grant a patent on the idea of a Tax? Well... I guess not.. How about a patent on the idea of mandating copy controls? err:)

Oh and about trademarking the reference section numbers needed to look up particular laws, and... err... nevermind...

dude (4.50 / 2) (#40)
by turmeric on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 12:39:16 AM EST

'building codes', are for buildings, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc, things that have been around for many many years. building codes for software are coming, and the professionalization of programming, thats coming too, and the very same issues are going to come up there as well. can the basic layers of the internet be unavailable for the public? hell no!

and, (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by caca phony on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 03:31:20 AM EST

Guess who is going to most likely be paying the salaries of the people who write these codes, so that legislators can cut and paste them into law? In regulated businesses, the laws that govern them are generally written by the biggest companies in that business.

[ Parent ]
I wouldn't count on either of those happening. (none / 0) (#58)
by Trepalium on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 03:39:31 PM EST

For one, building codes were initially rationalized because of public safety. There's virtually no way to rationalize a software building code in the public safety interests. Regardless of the security implications of software, no one has ever died because of a bug in MS Windows, and if someone did, it was their own fault for using software that wasn't designed for life critical systems.

Secondly, professionalization of software programming is unlikely to happen because of any government intervention, but rather out of the professional programmers that already exist. However, there is no indication that such a co-operative effort to create such a requirement is going to be formed anytime soon. As it stands, there is a great deal of difference between a programmer and an engineer. There are programming jobs that need nothing more than some kid who taught himself VB, other jobs require teams of software engineers/computer scientists. Saying that every programming job will require a software engineer or computer scientist would be counter productive.

[ Parent ]

Mickey Mouse adopted by reference (1.00 / 1) (#45)
by SEWilco on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 08:29:22 AM EST

There is a problem in that this creates a loophole for making anything public.

If a state makes "Attack of the Clones" their official state movie, is it now public domain? And if proposed laws are also public, all of the other movies which are considered for that law would also become public?

A movie is not a law (5.00 / 1) (#50)
by localroger on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 09:55:44 AM EST

Laws are written, not filmed, and they are written in a specific format as a set of directives and penalties for non-compliance.

As for passing long texts into law, Congress does that all the time, and such texts become part of the Congressional Record.

It's interesting to speculate what would happen if some dinky municipality passed the text of, oh, Stephen King's latest novel into a statute. The resulting lawsuit would probably make it at least to the circuit courts of appeal.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

Not really... (5.00 / 1) (#51)
by Kindaian on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 10:53:10 AM EST

In essence, EVERYTHING is public domain in the day it get's published/released.

And nothing states the contrary (and be legal).

On the other hand, there is IP/Copyright laws... which allow for a party to explore a monopoly on the publishing and distribution of those works as a counterpart of the costs to produce/distribute the works.

Those are the "ground level" of all ip/copyright laws all over the world... they are "grants" by the states...

So effectivelly is a state pronounces a work as a "universal" work that should be available to everyone... Tough luck... yup it would end the "monopoly" to explore that work... You would have to live with it...

Of course, you can appeal for some sort of compensation as that wheren't the rules of engagement when you produced the work and it completly changed the market for that work... But that also falls under the humbrella of: Tough luck...
If the state doesn't approve a compensation you are out of luck...

Of course you can opt to appeal on international boards... but normally they are "facultative"... the states aren't obliged to respect them...

Cheers... Kindaian

[ Parent ]
public domain (none / 0) (#57)
by brouhaha on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 03:02:22 PM EST

In essence, EVERYTHING is public domain in the day it get's published/released.
This couldn't be further from the truth. In general, NOTHING is public domain until the copyright expires or the owner deliberately places it into the public domain.

[ Parent ]
Depends on your point of view (none / 0) (#89)
by cpt kangarooski on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 07:49:07 PM EST

If you regard copyright as an artificial construct (it is) that doesn't naturally occur (it doesn't) then you see that the natural state of any work is to be in the public domain. Copyright is just this thing fitted over the public domain; it doesn't change the fundemental nature of content.

All my posts including this one are in the public domain. I am a lawyer. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice.
[ Parent ]
Public Domain (none / 0) (#56)
by brouhaha on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 03:00:09 PM EST

If a state makes "Attack of the Clones" their official state movie, is it now public domain?
No. Since the US ratified the Berne Convention, with only a few exceptions works are never public domain until copyrights expire or the owner explicitly declares them to be in the public domain.

This ruling establishes that enacted laws are one of the exceptions.

[ Parent ]

nope. (5.00 / 1) (#61)
by porkchop_d_clown on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 05:09:26 PM EST

Unless they include a copy of Attack of the Clowns in the actual law, nothing changes.

And if they *did* include a copy of the actual film, Lucas could file a claim against them for unlawful taking...

I feel like I've lived my live in screensaver mode....

[ Parent ]
"Submitted" material, not just anything. (none / 0) (#95)
by IPFreely on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:31:52 AM EST

The laws in question were submitted to the various legal bodies for consideration as law. Those submitting the bills should be well aware that their material will be placed in the public domain if accepted as law, and agree to that condition up front.

Unless the copyright owner submits the material and agrees to the condition that they will loose copyright protection on accpetance, then the governments cannot just declare someone elses material to be somehow "official" and remove the copyright.

[ Parent ]

The wonderful Onion (4.33 / 3) (#47)
by Aztech on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 09:47:23 AM EST

How about this Onion article :- British Parliament Accused Of Plagiarizing U.S. Senate Bill S.576. (ohh look, Stephen Byers, he got kicked out only a couple of weeks ago.)

The Building Code Scam (4.66 / 6) (#48)
by localroger on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 09:50:10 AM EST

Like many laws, building codes no longer exist for the reason they were first implemented. That was, originally, to limit the spread of fire in cities. The original building codes forbade thatch roofs and IIRC wooden shingles.

From that sensible beginning the code requirements have spread like a hydra to encompass every aspect of construction. From fire resistance we progressed to falling-down resistance, plumbing and electrical requirements (by which I mean not safety, but minimum levels of service), and finally to such minutae as what materials are permissible for wall sheathing and how many studs must be included in interior non load-bearing walls.

The argument is that home buyers benefit from this because you can be assured that the house you buy is built to certain standards. But as an owner-builder you don't have the right to document your deviations from code and live in the house you built and sell it with a disclaimer; if you're caught violating the code the State will show up with a bulldozer and knock your house down.

The real beneficiaries of this are the building industries which sell more wood and more fixtures of the mandated types than they might otherwise. Innovative designs cannot be tried even on an individual basis by their inventors. The mechanisms for getting an exception to the code are so byzantine and expensive that they are only available to large companies. If you have the misfortune to live in a state which has adopted the code state-wide, you cannot even legally go out on your own back 40 and build a yurt or post-frame shack free from this minute regulation.

(I'd post more specific examples of code requirement excesses, but all my books are in storage now because we're redecorating the house.)

My own feelings on the matter are more Heinlenesque than in some areas. If you build a non-code house, you should be able to place a prominent notice somewhere so that visitors and potential buyers will be warned, and it should then become nobody's damn business except your own if it falls down. A few regulations for sanitation and fire reasons might be reasonable in densely populated areas, and you should be liable if your house falls on someone. However, nobody should be able to knock your house down because you didn't use enough interior studs, you went with an engineered structure for the second floor which is stronger than standard but uses half the wood, and you used tension cables instead of a wooden A-frame to give the roof truss its shape.

And given that you do live under a set of regulations, you should not have to spend time or money learning what they are. If it costs money for the building industry to write what they think are sensible codes, then they can underwrite the project with all the extra 2x4's they sell.

When I visited rural Mexico, I was shocked at some of the economies of third-world construction. Far from being ready to fall down, most of the little houses were made of concrete with metal roofs and looked like they'd survive a fire, earthquake, or hurricane a lot better than my code-compliant but cheaply built American wood-frame house. Yet if you built such a structure here you wouldn't be allowed to live in it without electric and water service, but you couldn't get electric or water service since it's not code compliant, and in many places the Government would knock it down on general principles as soon as they learned of its existence.

The court's decision in this case was unexpectedly sensible. If they're going to write fucked up laws like this we should at least be able to find out what they say without making their authors any richer. I only hope it is upheld on appeal.

I can haz blog!

concrete with metal roofs (none / 0) (#78)
by wiredog on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 08:55:35 AM EST

Actually, those structures tend to go right over in earthquakes that, in California, are considered 'minor'. The Mexice City quake several years ago, and the one in Turkey a couple of years ago, caused numbers of casualties that were orders of magnitude larger than similar quakes have caused in California and Japan.

Wood frame (or similar technique, with steel 2X4's) is one of the best ways to build a house that won't fall on you in an earthquake. Wood flexes where concrete shatters.

There was a story in the Washington Post recently about a guy whose house is about to be bulldozed by the county government for massive code violations in a rennovation. My thought on that is that, yes, it's rough on him. But what about his neighbors? What does it do to the value of my house if the one next door looks about ready to fall over? What happens to my insurance rates if the next door neighbor's house is a firetrap? Or likely to fall over on my property? His failure to meet code can cost me money in what is probably the largest investment I will ever make. Should the value of my investment decline because my neighbor doesn't care about the neighborhood? If the county government isn't to handle it, then who should? Does it become a case of "Judge Lynch never sleeps?" I'd rather have the county come in with a bulldozer.

Can't sleep. The clowns will get me.
[ Parent ]

Ever heard of rebars? Bulldoze neighbor's house? (none / 0) (#82)
by marinel on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 12:50:11 PM EST

I'm no civil engineer, but AFAIK, steel reinforced concrete is many times superior to wood structures, so concrete is not so bad if reinforced. Even earthquakes won't knock them down. You might get some cracks, but it won't get blown over like a house of cards by the first tornado that comes along. Ever asked yourself why most house foundations are made of reinforced concrete and not wood, nowadays?

As to the neighbor building a house that might fall down, as long as it does not affect your property physically, I don't think you have any right to demand his house to be demolished. Let's say the guy is poor and he does not have the money to build his house to code, meaning that it won't withstand a 2.0 magnitude earthquake or a tornado. Now, a tornado might never hit his home and since the last 2.0 earthquake happened 150 years ago in the area, it might not happen again for another 100 years, so who are you to demand his house bulddozed over just to make you feel good that his house won't fall down and devalue your property? Don't you think it's a bit presumptios and rather self-centered of you to demand such draconic enforcements of building codes?

I also see such govt tresspassings and property destruction as infringement on US citizens rights to private property guaranteed under Amendment V of the US Constitution, but that's just me.
Proud supporter of Students for an Orwellian Society
[ Parent ]

Not quite right (none / 0) (#85)
by rhino1302 on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 04:29:58 PM EST

Well, I am a Civil Engineer (well, a certified Engineer Intern, about 1 year shy of the professional experiance requirement for licensure). It's generally accepted that the best place to be in an earthquake is a one or two story wood-frame building.

Wood frame buildings tend to fail very gracefully. Masonry structures are at the other end of the spectrum - they fail catastrophically. Reinforcing concrete is not a simple matter - it takes a proper balance of steel and concrete to get a ductile failure. This is why you don't see many reinforced concrete single-family structures in the US - It's too expensive to get a professional engineer to sign off on the drawings, and it's very unsafe (and illegal) to let Joe Contractor try to figure it out. Just about anybody can get a stick frame building right, however, as long as they stick to the code.

In North America, the best time for an earthquake to hit is a night - that's when most folks are safe in their code-compliant home. In most of the rest of the world (I'm not sure about Europe) the best time for an earthquake to hit is during the day as the commercial structures are generally safer than the residential structures.

Don't underestimate wood. It's good stuff. You might also be interested to know that large timber buildings are more fire-resistant than steel buildings.

[ Parent ]
Wood-frame buildings (none / 0) (#92)
by localroger on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 10:26:45 PM EST

What you say is, mostly, right.

Wood frame buildings tend to fail very gracefully. Masonry structures are at the other end of the spectrum - they fail catastrophically.

True. OTOH reinforced concrete (and yes they DO use rebar, it's standard to leave some sticking out of the top of the walls in case they ever want to add a second floor) is stronger than wood, and will take a lot more abuse before failing, "gracefully" or otherwise.

There are two reasons I don't feel as safe in my code-compliant wood frame house as those peasants in Mexico.

The first is the roof truss. Nearly half the weight of the structure is above the roofline, where it has nothing to do but fall on top of me when the structure fails.

Now, why do you suppose that roof trusses are so heavy when there are very lightweight ways to build a triangle-shaped structure?


And the second? I live in Louisiana. There are no earthquakes here, but there are hurricanes. Masonry structures survive hurricanes which rip wooden structures apart. In many parts of Florida hit by Hurricane Andrew, the only surviving structures were concrete and cinderblock/cement. Yet I live under the same code (they call it UNIFORM for a reason) as people in earthquake country.

That doesn't make sense.

I can haz blog!
[ Parent ]

It is called: (none / 0) (#97)
by Ressev on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 03:44:54 PM EST

Centralized Bureaucracy. Nothing worse than having all your eggs in one basket; having all your officials in one location: They forget the old rule: "Location; Location; Location". I agree that it is foolish for a code in one area, that has certain conditions to be applied in another area that has different conditions. It is silly.

So, do yourself and your community a favor: lobby the appropriate officials to change the law to make it more applicable to your area. Of course, the silly Campaign Refinance Reform may make that harder (though large companies will have it easy still).
"Even a wise man can learn from a fool."
"There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact." - Mark Twain
[ Parent ]

Really? (none / 0) (#103)
by marinel on Fri Jun 28, 2002 at 03:37:32 PM EST

> It's generally accepted that the best place to be in an earthquake is a one or two story wood-frame building.

Hmmm... It's "generally accepted"? You gotta love that coming from a civil engineer...

> Wood frame buildings tend to fail very gracefully. Masonry structures are at the other end of the spectrum - they fail catastrophically.

Your statements are somewhat nebulous. You mention not what the conditions are for these "catastrophical" failures, nor would I consider the word "gracefully" a word worthy of an engineer. Would please elaborate?

> Reinforcing concrete is not a simple matter - it takes a proper balance of steel and concrete to get a ductile failure. This is why you don't see many reinforced concrete single-family structures in the US - It's too expensive to get a professional engineer to sign off on the drawings, and it's very unsafe (and illegal) to let Joe Contractor try to figure it out.

So, really the only impediment is cost, not the quality of the structure, right?

> In North America, the best time for an earthquake to hit is a night - that's when most folks are safe in their code-compliant home.

How many people died in their concrete homes as a result of "catastrophical" failure and how many died in their wood-frames as a result of tornadoes, hurricanes or fires? Use ratios of deaths vs all impacted homes if you want. How many wood-frame structures survived the above catastrophes and how many rebar homes were left standing after such natural occurrences?

> Don't underestimate wood. It's good stuff.

"Log, log, log! ...
Come on and get your Log.
Everyone needs a Log."

Are you sure you're a civil engineer and not an advocate of the logging industry, or of the home builders trade associations or worse? Ask yourself this: if your house is most likely your most important investment of your life, wouldn't you rather have a more secure, more energy-efficient, better sound-proofed, more fire-resistant, cheaper to insure home? I guess not if you live in the USA, and quite the opposite if you live in Germany.

> You might also be interested to know that large timber buildings are more fire-resistant than steel buildings.

Somehow this statement sounds hollow and it smells of deceipt as well since I thought we were arguing about rebar structures, not steel structures - which are a different story all together.
Proud supporter of Students for an Orwellian Society
[ Parent ]

Say what? (none / 0) (#86)
by mattbelcher on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 05:55:31 PM EST

Should the value of my investment decline because my neighbor doesn't care about the neighborhood?

When did it become the government's reponsibility to protect your real estate investments?

[ Parent ]

"What" (none / 0) (#88)
by Wateshay on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 06:47:49 PM EST

When did it become the government's reponsibility to protect your real estate investments?

Probably about the same time it became the government's responsibility to protect your life from a serial killer. The law shouldn't be there to protect us from ourselves, but a lot of people are assholes and need to be kept from infringing on the rights of others (or punished if they do). It's the old adage of "your right to swing your arm stops at my face". If there were no building codes to require certain minimum standards (and I'm in no way stating that the current standards are minimum) then the only recourse I would have to protect against my neighboor robbing from me by way of destroying my property value would be to knock his house down myself.

"If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for everyone else."

[ Parent ]
However... (none / 0) (#94)
by mattbelcher on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 11:26:57 AM EST

There is a difference between the government protecting your house (something the government is supposed to do) and protecting the market value of your house (something which the government does not do). If the neighbor's house is in danger of falling on top of yours, or starting a fire, then the government steps in to stop it. If the color of paint he chooses is an eyesore and no one will buy your house at its current price for fear of having to look at the hideous neighbor your only recourse will be your neighborhood homeowners association. The government protects *property* not its market value.

[ Parent ]
rights (none / 0) (#101)
by Happy Monkey on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 05:43:18 PM EST

Your right to a pretty neighborhood ends at your neighbors' property lines.

If indirectly lowering your property values is "robbing" you, then would you chip in on your neighbors' lawn care expenses? After all, they are increasing your property values.
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
Boo hoo (none / 0) (#100)
by Happy Monkey on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 05:39:00 PM EST

But what about his neighbors? What does it do to the value of my house if the one next door looks about ready to fall over?

And here is the excuse for some of the most intrusive, unpleasant, and unjustifiable laws in the country. Unless the house poses an actual physical threat to your property, government has no role in your complaint. If you can't deal with an "eyesore", then you should just swallow the "loss" and move.
Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
The Court is right in this. (3.50 / 2) (#53)
by Work on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 12:25:19 PM EST

What the man should have done was go to his library and pick up a copy of the laws themselves. Or petition the city to put their codes on the web. Just because a law decides to quote (even liberally) from a copyrighted work is no reason to put that work in the public domain. The law itself is public domain.

This is really a non-issue, the 'law' itself is not copyrighted (the court opinion even went to great pains to clarify that) and the title of this article is highly misleading.

Shame, shame, shame on you.

Umm. (none / 0) (#54)
by mindstrm on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 01:35:01 PM EST

Okay. So if the "Law itself"  is not copyrighted.. how do I get a copy of it so I can read it at my leisure and/or give copies to others so they too can know the law?

[ Parent ]
Pay a visit to city hall and/or library. (none / 0) (#59)
by Work on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 04:19:26 PM EST

You know, actually leaving your home. Many towns and cities today have all that stuff available online, however with the two small towns mentioned, that's not unsurprising that they doesn't have an official website.

[ Parent ]
But that wasn't the question. (none / 0) (#67)
by mindstrm on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 08:17:23 PM EST

I *KNOW* I can go get it there. But that doesn't mean it's not copyrighted.

If the law isn't copyrighted, then why can't I put copies of the law on my website?

[ Parent ]

You certainly can. (none / 0) (#68)
by Work on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 08:54:40 PM EST

If you read the court opinion, this should be clear.

This man did not put the law on the website. He put the text that the law is based on (this text is copyrighted) on his website. Big difference.

Had he gone to the library of city hall of these 2 towns and put the actual law on his website, there would be no problem.

Now this may seem silly, however nobody answered my previous question as to whether the city put the WHOLE of the code in their law, or just parts of it. I have a feeling the city only put part in anyway as that makes the most sense. Admittedly, I have not read the copyrighted codebook, but most likely it contains text in it besides the legalese that the derivative law would use. It would probably contain explanations of the legalese. The website author copied from this work wholesale instead of getting the actual law.

[ Parent ]

Incorporation by reference (none / 0) (#90)
by astatine on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 09:51:11 PM EST

From the article:

SBCCI encourages local government entities to enact its codes into law by reference

This suggests that the actual law is simply a link citing SBCCI's model code as being the city's law; this is the moral equivalent of an MLP pointing to an article available only with paid subscription to the referenced site!

Society, they say, exists to safeguard the rights of the individual. If this is so, the primary right of a human being is evidently to live unrealistically.Celia Green
[ Parent ]
Consequences to going to City Hall (none / 0) (#96)
by sphealey on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 01:03:13 PM EST

The problem is that there are often consequences to appearing in person at City Hall. In the case of building codes, most codes state that work must be done by a licensed contractor, or by the homeowner in full compliance with all codes.

Here's what happens: You want to do a bathroom renovation. You get a quote from a licensed contractor at 15,000 USD. Too high. So you go to City Hall and ask to see the plumbing code. "Doing any rennovation?" the clerk asks you sweetly. "Yes," you reply, "my bathroom". You sign the book and check out the code.

The next day, the county health department, the electrical inspector, the structural inspector, the lawn inspector (don't laugh - some cities have them), and every inspector except the plumbing inspector shows up at your house "due to a complaint from a neighbor". By the time they are done, you have citations that will cost you 35,000 USD to fix.

You get the message, and hire a contractor to do your bathroom project. The citations are dismissed. Your alderman pockets a campaign contribution from the contractor.

That's basically how business is done in most large metropolitan areas in the US of A, anyway.

So being able to read the law on an anonymous web site is more important than it may seem at first.

sPh, or, Been There, Done That

[ Parent ]

Absolutely wrong. (5.00 / 1) (#60)
by porkchop_d_clown on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 05:02:09 PM EST

If the laws themselves are not in the public domain then what is? Especially when you consider that all western societies hold that ignorance of the law is no defense!

SBCCI and similar groups (what's the name of that company that has a monopoly on publishing court decisions?) are effectively attempting to erect barriers against people learning about the law to preserve their own profits. They want to preserve both their direct profits (they charge a ton of money for hard copy) and indirectly - because by hiding the details of the law from laymen they effectively create barriers against outsiders entering the business of their members.

I feel like I've lived my live in screensaver mode....

[ Parent ]
You didnt even read my post, did you? (2.00 / 1) (#63)
by Work on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 05:57:11 PM EST

And I quote myself: "The law itself is public domain."

I wasnt aware there was a company with a monopoly on court decisions..funny how ive read many a book by many a publisher with them. You just made that up didn't you?

[ Parent ]

Hey, space case. (5.00 / 1) (#72)
by porkchop_d_clown on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 11:32:09 PM EST

  1. I understood your post. You failed to understand my reply.
  2. HyperLaw V. West Publishing Company

I did learn one thing today, though: West lost the case - but have been lobbying to get the copyright law changed to (effectively) give the copyright back to them.

I feel like I've lived my live in screensaver mode....

[ Parent ]
SOUNDS good, but it doesn't work! (none / 0) (#80)
by mcherm on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 09:15:22 AM EST

Suppose that the law says this:

"You must obey all of the rules written in Mr. Fitzer's Secret Pamphlet. If you violate any of these rules, you may be found guilty of a misdemeanor, and fined thousands of dollars."

And suppose that Mr. Fitzer charges hundreds of dollars to let you see a copy of his Secret Pamphlet, or (for a fairly hefty sum), he'll "consult" for you and give you some good advice.

You'd probably protest that this is ABSURD... that (as you say, "the 'law' itself is not copyrighted").

Unfortunately, that's EXACTLY what happened. Mr. Fitzer is better known as SBCCI, and his "Secret Pamphlet" is better known as the building codes.

In my opinion, the government has an obligation to make public the laws that it requires it's citizens to obey. But in this case, apparently the court disagrees with me.

-- Michael Chermside
[ Parent ]

Or.... (4.00 / 1) (#87)
by Karellen on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 06:38:57 PM EST

I'd say that either the government has a obligation to make public the laws that it requires its citizens to obey, or it allows ignorance of the law to be a defence against breaking it.

[ Parent ]
If ignorance is an excuse (none / 0) (#98)
by mcherm on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 03:45:26 PM EST

I'd say that either the government has a obligation to make public the laws that it requires its citizens to obey, or it allows ignorance of the law to be a defense against breaking it.

Granted. But irrelevant. If ignorance of a law were a defense against breaking it, then everyone would very carefully refuse ever to hear about the law, and it would effectively be useless!

-- Michael Chermside
[ Parent ]

Yay! [nt] (none / 0) (#99)
by Happy Monkey on Wed Jun 19, 2002 at 05:25:45 PM EST

Length 17, Width 3
[ Parent ]
Why irrelevant? (none / 0) (#102)
by Karellen on Fri Jun 21, 2002 at 05:04:48 PM EST

Yes that's a logical conclusion to come to, but what makes it irrelevant? It's just another step on the path of reasoning that begins with "what if people aren't allowed access to the law".

You might argue that if people don't have access to the law, they can never know if the laws they do have access to are authoritative in any way. Like free speech in the states. It's enshrined in the constitution and would appear to be absolute, but you'll find some get-out clauses somewhere against doing things like shouting "fire" in a crowded theater (public endangerment), or not infringing copyright (right to broadcast or some such).

So, if people can never tell if the law they do know is any good to them, because they don't know what they don't know, what's the point in learning what is available in the first place? If you don't make the law available to the public, it's easy to argue it would be effectively useless.

Um, so, yeah. We're both making the same point here I think.

/me runs out of steam.

[ Parent ]

that sounds like fun :P (none / 0) (#70)
by KaizerWill on Sun Jun 16, 2002 at 11:07:04 PM EST

ill copyright YOUR law!!

You were there for that...
Would building codes be developed if no copyright (none / 0) (#81)
by jglazer on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 11:24:08 AM EST

I am a member of a volunteer committee that develops a model building code concerning energy use in buildings called ASHRAE Standard 90.1. I would say that the development process for these codes would probably have never happened if the sponsoring organization, in my case ASHRAE, believed that they did not retain full rights under their copyright of the document so they can provide funding for its further development. In other words, without copyright protection, model building codes would never have been developed. Given that most building codes are related to life safety, without copyright protection, the buildings we live in would be less safe.

yes, but... (4.00 / 1) (#83)
by lordpixel on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 01:03:55 PM EST

I see what you're saying, but its making by brain go, "yes, but..."

1/ how do other countries manage?

2/ how areother safety laws (random examples: children's toy standards, industrial machinery) developed?

3/ how areother kinds of law funded?

Presumably said organization believes in retaining full rights so as to be able to profit by selling the codes (whether the money is all channeled back ito the next version or not). Sounds more like they've become accustomed to operating that way than it being the only solution.

A part of me wonders if less opportunity for profit might also motivate simpler leaner codes. Perhaps there's no fat to cut, perhaps there is.

I am the cat who walks through walls, all places and all times are alike to me.
[ Parent ]

A different but... (none / 0) (#93)
by Lord of the Wasteland on Tue Jun 18, 2002 at 03:35:47 AM EST

A part of me wonders if less opportunity for profit might also motivate simpler leaner codes.

I'm afraid that the opposite is likely to happen. Since the building codes qua law lose their copyrighted status, it will be more profitable to have a more succinct but more obfuscated building code and then provide a gloss to it as a separate document. The code could then be enacted into law while the organization could restrict distribution of the gloss.

On the other hand, I have to agree with the court's decision. The need of the public to know the law overrides copyright considerations. If the codes cannot be produced in a publicly accessible way, then government is derelict in its duties to adopt them as law.

[ Parent ]

caught my attention (none / 0) (#84)
by Prophet themusicgod1 on Mon Jun 17, 2002 at 01:37:39 PM EST

wonder if this is similar / worth posting

"I suspect the best way to deal with procrastination is to put off the procrastination itself until later. I've been meaning to try this, but haven't gotten around to it yet."swr
Can Law Be Copyrighted? | 103 comments (79 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
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