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Monday, June 16, 2008

State of Oregon as cyberbully

I blogged here a while back about the nasty threats that a committee of the Oregon Legislature has been making against those who would dare publish the Oregon Revised Statutes -- the state's legal code -- on the internet. According to something called the Oregon Legislative Counsel Committee, the state owns a copyright on the Oregon Revised Statutes, and no one can publish them without paying the state a fee.

The claim that this committee makes is extremely broad. It recently told a private outfit whom it was threatening with a lawsuit that the state's copyright extends to "the arrangement and subject-matter compilation of Oregon statutory law, the prefatory and explanatory notes, the leadlines and numbering for each statutory section, the tables, index and annotations and such other incidents as are the work product of the Committee in the compilation and publication of Oregon law." That leaves the text of the law itself in the public domain, but without the other materials, the text of the law itself is truly meaningless. The section numbers? You're kidding, folks. The law itself refers to those section numbers constantly. If you can't tie the code section to its number, the law becomes gibberish.

As a practical matter, the bottom line is that the state is claiming that its law cannot be copied by anyone in any meaningful way without state permission.

For example, here's what Chapter 289 of the Oregon Revised Statutes looks like. (According to the legislative committee, I have just broken the law by copying it in full onto my own website.) Now here's what it looks like without the material that the committee claims is copyrighted. It's worthless. But worthless is all I can give you, Salem says, unless I pay the state a fee.


Anyway, now the legislative committee is planning a hearing on the matter, to be held Thursday morning in Salem. The Wiki kids are all over it, here, and they're planning to head down there, presumably to blast the legislative committee for its arrogance.

For those of us not sufficiently motivated to schlep all the way to the state Capitol for this, there's no reason why we couldn't express our views by e-mail to the members of the committee. It's quite a list of Legislature honchos:

On the Senate side: Peter Courtney; Kate Brown, who's running for Secretary of State -- the keeper of Oregon's law and protector of the public's access to the law; Ginny Burdick; David Nelson; Jackie Winters; and Floyd Prozanski.

On the House side: Jeff Merkley, who might need your vote sometime soon; Greg Macpherson (never too late to do the right thing); Dave Hunt; Andy Olson; Dennis Richardson; and Diane Rosenbaum.

Brown and Merkley especially deserve to hear about this as they aspire to higher office. If this misguided committee doesn't back down, I certainly hope that someone will take it to court and embarrass the heck out it, prominently tying these politicians' names to the copyright bullying being done on their behalf.

Comments (12)

As a lawyer, you should appreciate that the problem with allowing anyone to freely publish a version of statutes and regulations is content control. With the advent of the Internet, everything is available and nothing is authoritative (sorry, not even you). An ancient Chinese emperor caused the teachings of Confucius to be engraved in stone in order to prevent copiers corrupting them. Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Being mislead by inaccurate editions of the law should not be either, unless it constitutes governmental estoppel.

We have been through this issue on the prior thread. There are so many outdated versions of so many laws presently circulating on the internet that any surfer is on clear notice that he or she had better check the official site to be sure something he or she finds is current. Also, when the state sells licenses to private publishers on this material, which it does routinely, there is no guarantee that the private publishers will keep the files current.

More fundamentally, copyright laws are not designed to insure accuracy of publication of public law. They are to compensate authors for creative works. Much of what the legislative committee is claiming as its creative work is nothing of the kind.

There are also fair use issues and other questions raised by the committee demand letters, but even without them, what they are doing is indefensible.


we've been covering it at loaded orygun a bit too, though it now deserves an update.

in the meantime, enjoy this graphic i made on behalf of the legislative council committee.


your argument might makes sense (well, no, it wouldn't, but for arguments sake) except for the fact that the legislative council itself admits that their own online copy of the ORS does not reflect the official word of law, but for 100% garunteed accuracy please buy a copy from them for $390.

quoting directly from their website:

The text appearing in this database was produced from material provided by the Legislative Counsel Committee of the Oregon Legislative Assembly. The official record copy is the printed published copy of the Oregon Revised Statutes. The text in the database is not the official text of Oregon law.

Mr Merkley,
I'm sickened by this whole deal about the State of Oregon harassing people regarding copying the ORS. Those aren't YOUR laws or the Senate's laws - they are mine! I'm so sick of the small minded way our state is being run. Chalk it up to Kulongoski, a changing and developing populace - regardless, it is a shame. I work in government and this type of attitude from those in charge is blatant and frequent. Please make it a point to let the Senate know who these laws are for and who ultimately controls their use.

Gettysburg Address talks about our Government

...that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

What does not allowing us to use the law have to do with anything positive from the speech at Gettysburg?

It does nothing to support freedom. It keeps the law out of the impoverished hands, when it should be so accessible at a public library.

This is what is wrong with Government. When people involved don't look at why they are doing something -- their reasoning for acting is unjustified.

Well, y'all are doing a fine job of debunking Alex's claim, but let me come at it another way.

Of course there is a legitimate concern that some depraved person or organization would publish a modified version of the ORS that serves some nefarious purpose. That could be a bad thing.

The problem is, copyright law is in every way the wrong tool for guarding against that possibility.

This concept is not even foreign to Oregon law: the the design of the Seal of Oregon, for instance, is enshrined in the Constitution -- clearly exempt from copyright, as it was created well before 1923.

But its use is restricted by ORS 186.023. Not by copyright law, but by a law pertaining specifically to this valued resource.

A law prohibiting the publication of inaccurate versions of the ORS would make sense. But that's not what the LCC has done here.

It's nice to see that at least a few lawyers, like Jack, are not part of the law cabal. The law belongs to all of us and it shouldn't cost $390 to buy a copy.

Some years back I managed to get two pieces of legislation into State legislature. They would have required public access and support at law libraries (try asking for law books at the public library) and required county clerks to provide more help. These were scuttled by the Speaker of the House and the Judiciary committee. Obviously they didn't help the law cabal.

My thanks and appreciation to Jack who apparently gets it: the law is about fairness even in regard to access (and cost of access) to the law.

Here's my email I fired off:


It occurs to me that the Oregon Legislative Council Committee has a standing belief that the Oregon Revised Statutes should not be posted and / or quoted without permission from the State of Oregon - only obtainable by paying a fee - due to copyrights.

This impedes the ability for the common citizen to know and understand the law. Common citizens are not going to curl up by the fireplace with the Oregon Revised Statutes for a pleasant evening of reading. In the world we live in, they are going to learn about the law through discussion, and these discussions are taking place on Internet "blogs" and forums. The law can be posted through a simple copy and paste, and then discussed for a better understanding, and thus less people breaking that statute.

For the interests of the citizenry, as well as the State of Oregon, I would think that educating the public on the law would be one of the goals of the Oregon Legislative Council Committee, as well as each and every Representative of the people, whether it be to the state legislature, or to the United States Senate.

Further, the I would think that an accusation of intellectual property theft would be rather questionable, when the intellectual property in question was created by the citizenry in a public legislative body by proxy through their representation. The State of Oregon should not be worrying about where people reading the laws of this great state, but rather embracing it, and encouraging it. Please help your committee to understand this.

Proud Citizen of the State of Oregon.

Let's hope that we don't get to the point where we have to rely on a public interest group to file suit, so the State can waste more resources defending something that they couldn't actually get a copyright for in the first place.

Great email, "Proud Citizen!"

I've just made a detailed blog entry on my own blog -- the written testimony I submit will be pretty closely based on that one.

I have a question, why does cyber bulling only refer to kids?

I am an adult, and I deal with it everytime I come across a woman who uses the nickname Krasna, in Buzzen chat, in peers room 40s2. ADULTS CAN BE VICTIMS OF CYBER BULLING TOO.

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