Can a State copyright its statutes?

Apparently, Oregon is trying. The story goes thusly: Oregon sent a cease and desist letter to Justia and Public.Resource.Org. They claimed a copyright in the “arrangement and subject matter compilation of Oregon statutory law…” Thus, Oregon is asking these sites to take down the Oregon statutes they make available for free.

Most of the correspondence is available for view here. As Justia and P.R.O point out in this letter, the Oregon website is horribly W3C non-compliant (there are over 503,000 HTML errors!), is not “section 508” compliant, doesn’t use CSS (!!!) and even has a robots.txt file that blocks search engines!

How is that “accessible to the public”? The site lacks functionality and may not be accessible by all browsers and all operating systems.

So, what if a State decides to either charge for access to its statutes or makes it publicly available on a crappy website where not all can view the pages. Do we have a legitimate notice problem? I know we are all presumed to know the law, but if the State is charging for access to the actual text of the Statutes, or makes them difficult to access, what are the chances of successfully defending a prosecution on due process grounds?

Also, what the hell is wrong with Oregon? Why, in this day and age, would you be so stubborn and so stupid? What is really the point of “protecting” the Code? I don’t understand what they’re trying to accomplish, other than look foolish.

Anyway, anyone see a potential notice problem here?

H/T: HaveOpinionWillTravel

5 thoughts on “Can a State copyright its statutes?

  1. Windypundit

    “Also, what the hell is wrong with Oregon? Why, in this day and age, would you be so stubborn and so stupid? What is really the point of “protecting” the Code? I don’t understand what they’re trying to accomplish, other than look foolish.

    I think they’re trying to do the same thing everyone else tries to do with a copyright. Quoting from the website of the Oregon State Legislature:

    The 2007 Oregon Revised Statutes and other law publications are available for purchase from the Office of Legislative Counsel.

    $390 for the whole set.

    (Here in Chicago, the electrical codes aren’t online at all, but you can buy a book. The book is sold by a third party. I’ll bet they contribute a lot to their alderman’s campaign fund.)

    “Anyway, anyone see a potential notice problem here?”

    I’m sure anyone with an interest in Oregon statutes is welcome to visit the state house and examine a copy in the clerk’s office during regular business hours.

    Reply
  2. MissConductPDX

    ‘Kay. Here I am, a PD from Portland, Oregon.

    I have NEVER had any difficulties accessing Oregon’s code on-line here: http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/

    It’s all there. As a matter of fact, it was all there LONG before the books were available for purchase.

    Additionally, our legislative archives are also readily accessible on-line: http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/banners/legis.htm

    The whole things sounds stupid, I know, but the state has a proprietary interest in the formatting of the laws, at least, don’t you think?

    Reply
  3. MissConductPDX

    Oh, PS: There ain’t nothing wrong with Oregon. We have mountains, we have an ocean, we have a court that continues to rule that the cops don’t have a right to talk to you most of the time.

    We have Article I, Section 8 of the Oregon Constitution which protects the freedom to express yourself on any topic “whatever.” Hell, it even protects live sex shows: http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/S49707.htm

    Alright, so the Portland cops tend to beat people up: http://circuit9.blogspot.com/2007/06/players-great-victory-by-portland-afpd.html, but at least I can point to two volcanos from my office in downtown Portland.

    Oh, and the fishing is great.

    Reply

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