Who owns Georgia's lawbook?

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - It's a legal fight over the letter of the law in Georgia - and who owns the right to sell copies. That dispute will land the state in the Supreme Court Monday.

Supreme Court set to hear Georgia v. Public Resource Monday. (Source: Gray DC)

After state representatives and senators vote for a bill, and the governor signs it, every new law is written into the Official Code of Georgia. But soon, the Supreme Court will close the book on a debate over who has the right to publish it.

"The people of Georgia own the law of Georgia, Georgia can't say you have to pay $400 to get a book," said David Haplerin, a member of the legal team for Public.Resource.org.

The website published the Georgia's official code online, based on the belief that everyone has the right to read the law of the land. "That's what's called democracy that's freedom of speech, and that's what Georgia ought to be doing for its citizens," said Halperin.

But, the state sued. While the law itself can't be copyrighted, Georgia argues notes and explanations of the laws that accompany the code deserve copyright protection. Lawyers for the state declined interview requests ahead of Oral Argument, referring us to their court filings.

"Their argument is don't kill the goose that lays the golden egg," said Roger Schechter, a law professor at George Washington University.

He summarizes the state's predicament like this: Georgia outsources putting the code together to an outside company. In exchange for that work, the company cashes in on sales of the official law books. Schechter said if that funding stream gets taken away, the company likely won't want to work for free.

"I have a feeling Georgia's going to win this one, I think it's going to be close," he said.

Schecter says to win, Public Resource will have to show that the notes - while not the law - are effectively equivalent to it.

The justices are expected to have a ruling by the summer.



 
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