First off, I’m going to let you know that I am very biased on this topic, and believe that it is the goverment’s express duty to make its laws known to the people they affect. So, when I was at the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and managing the court’s public website, OSCN, we made every effort to make whatever writings came out of the court available online.
But, there are a number of governments, from local to state, that attempt to put a copyright on any and all of their publications, and use that as leverage to either sell access to the information via their own publications or through publishers like Westlaw and Lexis. Oregon just recently backed off of their attempt to sue for copyright protection once there was a public outcry against them. My good friend Bonnie Shucha, up in Wisconsin, blogged about that case back in July.
I read today on CNET that Carl Malamud is trying to take on any government that he can by copying their published works and making it available on public.resource.org. Great idea, but pretty hard for one man to do. But, I do like how he is putting the web to use by also hosting the Pacer Recycling website where you can upload your old Pacer documents to his site, and others can then use them rather than going back to Pacer.
Getting governments to contribute to the public domain shouldn’t be a difficult task, but it can be. Even when I was at OSCN, we offered the free use of our database to house the court decisions and statutes of other states. We only had one state to take us up on the offer (good ol’ Wyoming!!) We even helped digitize some of their older cases and put the whole thing in Universal Citation System format, so that the big boys at the major legal publishers didn’t try to sue for the pagination rights. I was truly surprised when other courts didn’t take us up on the offer to house their cases. There were actually a couple of them (who shall remain nameless Western Mountainous States) that were actually pretty hostile to the idea because they thought it would cut a revenue source for them.
I wish Carl the best of luck, and will be watching to see if he finally gets under the governments’ or publishers’ skin and they sue him for copyright enfringment.