Oh, Georgia, Georgia, Georgia. Really?? A Cease and Desist letter asking Carl Malamud to take down a copy of your state code?? Really??

If you haven’t read this latest act of attempting to control state statutes (and probably insure that that juicy little Lexis contract), take a look at the C&D Letter [PDF] dated July 25, 2013 that was written by Josh McKoon, Chairman of the Georgia Code Revision Commission and posted by Malamud on law.resources.org.

According to the letter, Malamud let the Georgia Assembly know back in May that he was going to post a copy of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated on his website, and sure enough, there it is “with no restrictions to its access.”

Of course, it is the “Annotated” part that seems to have made the Commission ink this C&D. Most likely because that part is claimed by Lexis. If you have ever spend five minutes in a room with Fastcase’s Ed Walters, you’ve undoubtedly heard his tales of how stingy Lexis is with the Georgia Code. It seems that the agents of the State of Georgia are very much in agreement with the idea that no one should have free access to this annotated material.

Fear not though! According to the letter, an unannotated version of the Georgia Code is available to the public for free at www.legis.ga.gov.

All kidding aside, I actually see why Lexis would claim a copyright to the Annotations… but why is the State of Georgia bringing the C&D letter? Do they actually have standing? (My Civil Procedure memory is a bit rusty.) Does the State have the copyright, or is it Lexis? I have always assumed Lexis owned that right. Maybe not??

I wonder if Georgia would allow Carl Malamud to place the unannotated version, or would that bring yet another C&D Letter? It will be interesting to see how this unfolds. Malamud is pretty feisty and doesn’t like it when states claim copyright on their statutes. It could make for an interesting legal battle.

  • As someone who works at LexisNexis and is directly involved with the statutory content referenced in the post, I wanted to share some facts with you and your readers so there is an accurate understanding of the situation in question. Below are some key points on the matter:

    1. Copyright is in all referenced instances is held by the State and not by LexisNexis. LexisNexis performs defined editorial, manufacturing and distribution responsibilities under openly bid, publicly awarded publishing contracts granted by the State.
    2. Each State has made public versions of the codes in question available via public access websites that are often constructed and maintained by LexisNexis at no cost to the state or its citizens.
    3. Many States have made un-enhanced code files available for download, generally at low to moderate cost, so that other commercial suppliers have access to the code.
    4. The contractual relationship between LexisNexis and each State is an agreement where the State has sourced editorial support from LexisNexis to produce the code in print.
    5. LexisNexis does not get compensated for the significant editorial and staff resources it devotes to the Official Codes each year. Instead we are granted an exclusive right to sell the Official Code in print and online on behalf of the State. This is a cost-effective arrangement that saves the States from having to maintain a dedicated editorial staff to perform the highly specialized functions required to produce a quality code product.
    6. Our understanding is that only statutory language passed by a legislature constitutes “the law”. Research aids and enhancements such as case notes are created by LexisNexis’ specialized staff to aid legal practitioners, but LexisNexis does not claim to be writing the law or asserting copyright over the law.

    LexisNexis fully supports the need for free, open citizen access to the laws of each state. As such, we have worked closely with State leaders to develop freely accessible websites for each state code. That said, LexisNexis incurs significant cost to produce each State code product to the specifications of each State. We are compensated only through our ability to sell the code on behalf of the State.

    LexisNexis is proud to do this work and have been an important Code editorial resource to many states for over 100 years. We look forward to performing important editorial work for our State partners in the future.

    Jeff Pfeifer
    Vice President, Primary Law

  • Anonymous

    Each government, state and federal, should publish free versions of their annotated codes online, because everyone should have the opportunity to research the law themselves. If I had to go to a lawyer to research the law for everything I wanted to do, I'd be a pauper. I could easily research the law myself if it were available online.

    If I can't know the law without running to a lawyer every time I need to know the law, then I shouldn't be under the fiction that "ignorance of the law is no excuse." Well, it is an excuse, because I don't have access to what I need.