supreme-courtThe question of how much the government remains a body comprised of and belonging to the people it governs, or to what extent it exists as an entity now wholly separate, is a pressing matter, but one too big for the purview of this particular blog. That broader question does beg itself in the copyright case that is heading to the Supreme Court, however, in addition to the more immediate concerns that will be addressed in the decision.

The case heading before the court is Georgia v. Public.Research.Org, with the matter to be decided the ability of governments to copyright the text of the law. As Bob Ambrogi of Above the Law notes in his excellent write-up, the case falls into a grey area of copyright law: while governments aren't able to copyright the law in its various forms, the annotations and supplements that might be added to the text by publishers may be subject to copyright.

In this case, Public.Research.Org publisher Carl Malamud purchased a copy of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) from Lexis Nexis, complete with annotations provided by the company, and published the scanned works to his website. Georgia took Malamud to court over the alleged copyright violation and won a decision in district court, before facing a reversal in the Eleventh Circuit. Both Georgia and Public.Research.Org assented to the petition to have the Supreme Court, with the publisher among many legal observers and scholars who hope that the court will render a decision that will at least end confusion on the matter, given the varying decisions across lower courts.

How the court rules could have significant impact upon the future of legal scholarship and the practice of law itself. There is a clear necessity for free and easy access to the body of the law itself if the law is to be understood and practiced by both prospective and current attorneys, and shutting those texts entirely behind a wall of copyright protection could hinder the practice and application of law moving forward. And while firms like Lexis Nexis and others provide a much-needed service, and should receive some compensation for the value that they provide, advocates for access to justice would be hard-pressed to find a better metaphor for their struggles than having the high court of the land deciding that the text of the law is only available to those who pay.

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