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.
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.