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  1. #1
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    Default Is Legislation Covered by Intellectual Property Law

    Is a piece of legislation intellectual property and can it be copied?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Intellectual Property Law

    Quote Quoting SofiaDaly
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    Is a piece of legislation intellectual property and can it be copied?
    You did not mention what particular law or set of laws you are concerned about and it does matter. It also matters what you plan to copy (just one section of the laws of that jurisdication, all of them, or whatever) and what use you plan to make of those copies. Federal statutes are not protected by copyright and may be freely copied. But at least some U.S. states/localities do assert their copyright on the legislation they enact and limit the manner in which those works may be used. Most commonly they restrict the commercial use of the statutes without a license; i.e., legal publishers have to pony up money to some states to publish and sell the state statutes.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Intellectual Property Law

    TM is right, but the trend is at the state levels to hold that enacted law (and this includes things like building codes) used by the citizenry can't be blocked by copyright. This includes both the state making a buck selling (or licensing to sell) the statutes and enacting laws that refer to copyright proctected external documents (such as model codes) without adopting some provision for free access.

    If you're copying proposed legislation for participating in the political process, I can almost guarantee that such would be considered fair use.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Intellectual Property Law

    The published codes (building, electrical, plumbing, etc.) are copyrighted. Anyone, including government, can adopt by reference without any permission. However, if they want to adopt by transcription, Public authorities with law-making or rule making powers only, upon written notice to the copyright holder, will be granted a royalty-free license to print and republish.

    That seems to be the standard today.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Is Legislation Covered by Intellectual Property Law

    Quote Quoting SofiaDaly
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    Is a piece of legislation intellectual property and can it be copied?
    Just about anything "can . . . be copied," regardless of IP protection.

    What level of government are you concerned with, and what would your purpose be in copying the legislation?

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Intellectual Property Law

    Quote Quoting Taxing Matters
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    . But at least some U.S. states/localities do assert their copyright on the legislation they enact and limit the manner in which those works may be used. Most commonly they restrict the commercial use of the statutes without a license; i.e., legal publishers have to pony up money to some states to publish and sell the state statutes.
    I have spent a few hours researching this (my rainy day off) and I can't find a single case where a court has said that the laws or ordinances that a governmental subdivision passes is copyrightable. In fact, the courts, all the way to the Supreme Court of US ( Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. 591, 668 (1834); Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244, 253 (1888) says they are not and a copyright defeats the purpose of informing the people of the laws that govern them whether a publication of the law is for commercial purposes or not. The same rulings apply to published court opinions on both federal and state levels.

    So if you know of any cases that say differently, I would like to read them.

    In 2008, Oregon tried to have websites like Justia and public.resource.org stop publishing their statutes. They claimed that although the statutes were not copyrightable, the codification of the statutes was copyrightable. It went nowhere. I have not found any other state that has tried to claim copyright of the laws they pass.

    Section 105 of the Copyright Act places the works of federal government employees (so, federal statutes, federal judicial opinions, and the like) in the public domain. So we agree on that.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Intellectual Property Law

    Quote Quoting budwad
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    I have spent a few hours researching this (my rainy day off) and I can't find a single case where a court has said that the laws or ordinances that a governmental subdivision passes is copyrightable. In fact, the courts, all the way to the Supreme Court of US ( Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. 591, 668 (1834); Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244, 253 (1888) says they are not and a copyright defeats the purpose of informing the people of the laws that govern them whether a publication of the law is for commercial purposes or not.
    Those cases you mentioned, which are well over a century old, dealt with a very different version of federal copyright law than we have today. The Constitution gives to Congress the power to enact copyright law and there is no limitation in the Constitution that says that any legislation is exempt from whatever copyright protection the Congress enacts. So it all turns on what the current copyright law provides and how the courts interpret it. The current copyright law does not expressly exempt all legislation from the reach of copyright law. Indeed, the fact that Congress specifically stated in 105 that works of the U.S. government are not covered indicates that an exemption was needed to exclude the works of government from the reach of the statute. As only federal government works are excluded, the states may still assert a copyright in their works. Nothing in the copyright act expressly exempts legislation either (as distinguished from other works of state and local governments). Indeed, 102 is quite broad in what it covers. While I have not seen any court case that specifically says that under the current copyright act a state may assert copyright protection for its legislation, I am not aware of any that say that they can't either. Thus, it seems to me that those states/localities that do assert such a right have a reasonable argument to make on that.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Intellectual Property Law

    But I can't find any states that do assert the right to copyright their legislation. And I suspect that if they did, the courts would strike it down.

    The states prorogate laws but they can't be published? I don't think so. How is the public to know what is the law if nobody or anybody can't publish the law without paying for the privilege.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Intellectual Property Law

    Quote Quoting Taxing Matters
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    Those cases you mentioned, which are well over a century old, dealt with a very different version of federal copyright law than we have today. The Constitution gives to Congress the power to enact copyright law and there is no limitation in the Constitution that says that any legislation is exempt from whatever copyright protection the Congress enacts. So it all turns on what the current copyright law provides and how the courts interpret it. The current copyright law does not expressly exempt all legislation from the reach of copyright law. Indeed, the fact that Congress specifically stated in 105 that works of the U.S. government are not covered indicates that an exemption was needed to exclude the works of government from the reach of the statute. As only federal government works are excluded, the states may still assert a copyright in their works. Nothing in the copyright act expressly exempts legislation either (as distinguished from other works of state and local governments). Indeed, 102 is quite broad in what it covers. While I have not seen any court case that specifically says that under the current copyright act a state may assert copyright protection for its legislation, I am not aware of any that say that they can't either. Thus, it seems to me that those states/localities that do assert such a right have a reasonable argument to make on that.
    While I agree with both your analysis of the Copyright Act and the very old cases mentioned, "'the law,' whether it has its source in judicial opinions or statutes, ordinances or regulations, is not subject to federal copyright law." Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress Int'l, Inc., 293 F.3d 791, __ (5th Cir. 2002); see also Building Officials & Code Adm. v. Code Technology, Inc., 628 F.2d 730, __ (1st Cir. 1980) ("statutes and judicial opinions . . ., under existing law, may not receive copyright protection").

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Intellectual Property Law

    Quote Quoting budwad
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    But I can't find any states that do assert the right to copyright their legislation.
    The reason you can't find any is because asserting copyright for legislation is a solution without a problem.

    Every state (I have links to all of them) freely puts their statutes online for anybody and everybody to read for free and there are other free sources as well.

    I find it bizarre that anybody would spend time speculating on the astronomically unlikely possibility that some fool would print out a state's laws, bind them into books, and try to sell the books. Or CDs or DVDs which may actually be profitable, but who would buy them when the originals are available for free.


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