Step Away From the Copier and Put Your Hands in the Air

Carl Malamud of Sebastopol, California, is a lawbreaker, a miscreant, a reprobate. Get this. He downloads and photocopies state laws and regulations! Yes, you heard ...
by | September 11, 2008

Carl Malamud of Sebastopol, California, is a lawbreaker, a miscreant, a reprobate. Get this. He downloads and photocopies state laws and regulations! Yes, you heard me correctly. Get this man off the streets! (But keep him out of the copy rooms.)

Downloading and saving state laws on your computer is a no-no in most states. California's laws are copyrighted. So are many others. The state dictates how you can get them and distribute them. And how much it will will cost you to do so.

But Malamud has begun publishing copies of government codes online. At his Web site, Public.Resource.Org!, you now can find the Sonoma County Code and the 38-volume California Code of Regulations, according to a story in the Press Democrat. What the ??? Malamud is, as the story says, is "spoiling for a major legal fight."

Watch out states. He's coming your way. Malamud wants federal, state and local agencies to give up their copyright claims. In June, Malamud convinced Oregon to quit claiming copyright over its laws. He wants California, and other governments to do the same.

It's not so the documents will be free, necessarily. Rather, it opens the door for private geniuses out there to come up with new and better, shall we say "modern," ways to search and present the laws. Not a bad idea. Except for the fact states may lose a chunk of change.

California charges $1,556 for a digital copy of the information, $2,315 for a printed copy. The state rakes in nearly $900,000 a year selling its laws. You know, those public rules that people are obligated to know and follow? The copyright is for the benefit of Californians, according to the Office of Administrative Law. It's "compensation" for them.

Unfortunately for states' budgets, Malamud has some heavy hitters on his side, including the founder of eBay. And his nonprofit has raised $2 million for the cause. An academic at Berkeley thinks a court will say that if something is a law, it's in the public domain. Malamud thinks it will take about three years to finally establish that fact in the courts. But he does think it will happen.

Ellen Perlman
Ellen Perlman  |  Former columnist
mailbox@governing.com  | 

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. You can enter an anonymous Display Name or connect to a social profile.

More from View