Georgia Code Can't Be Copyrighted, 11th Circuit Rules

By William Vogeler, Esq. on October 24, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A federal appeals court said Georgia's annotated code cannot be copyrighted, which was not quite as settled a law as lawyers might think.

In Code Revision Commission v. Public Resource.Org, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said the law cannot be copyrighted because it belongs to the public. It was another victory for an open-law advocate who copied the entire state code and published it on the internet.

Carl Malamud, a regular thorn in the side of government, tweeted his victory dance with a song. Attorneys for the state of Georgia and at least one judge were not amused.

"This Law Is Your Law"

"This law is your law. This law is my law," Malamud jingled. No need for attribution because he changed the words, but it was cause for celebration since he lost at the trial level.

"I fought the law and the law won," he tweeted then, quoting The Clash.

Judge Richard Story had ruled against Malamud in 2017, and ordered him to remove the code from his website. In a unanimous decision, however, the Eleventh Circuit reversed.

The appeals court said the annotations in the code are "sufficiently law-like" that they are a sovereign work. The people of Georgia are the authors, the judges said.

"Ultimate Authors"

Technically, the legislators wrote the law. Lexis-Nexis prepared the annotations, but the justices knew that.

"In short, the annotations are legislative works created by Georgia's legislators in the exercise of their legislative authority," Judge Stanley Marcus wrote. "As a consequence, we conclude that the People are the ultimate authors of the annotations."

Lawyers at Meunier Carlin & Curfman, who represented the state, declined to comment to the ABA Journal. Techdirt, however, threw a backhanded compliment at Malamud.

"Oh great," he retweeted. "Because of this, Georgia no longer has any incentive to create new laws!"

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