On Friday, October 19, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit found that Georgia’s annotated laws are not protected by copyright, reversing the district court. In Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, Georgia argued that its annotated state laws are protected by copyright. Public.Resource.org posted these laws online—it has for several other laws and codes in other jurisdictions—and was subsequently sued for copyright infringement. Public.Resource.org argued that because only the annotated versions are considered official versions, they should be free to be read by the public. As a policy matter, this outcome makes sense; one should be able to read, for free, the laws that they must abide by. The Eleventh Circuit agreed with Public.Resource.org.
The Eleventh Circuit did not state that all annotated laws are not copyrightable, but instead noted that in the present case, the annotations were done at the direction of state officials and intertwined with the law itself. The court sums up its conclusion: “the annotations in the OCGA are sufficiently law-like so as to be properly regarded as a sovereign work. Like the statutory text itself, the annotations are created by the duly constituted legislative authority of the State of Georgia. Moreover, the annotations clearly have authoritative weight in explicating and establishing the meaning and effect of Georgia’s laws. Furthermore, the procedures by which the annotations were incorporated bear the hallmarks of legislative process, namely bicameralism and presentment. In short, the annotations are legislative works created by Georgia’s legislators in the exercise of their legislative authority.”
The district court had ruled that the annotations were subject to copyright, then proceeded to reject the argument that Public.Resource.Org’s use was fair use. However, as the Eleventh Circuit notes, “Because we conclude that no copyright can be held in the annotations, we have no occasion to address the parties’ other arguments regarding originality and fair use.”
ARL submitted an amicus brief in this case together with ALA, ACRL, Public Knowledge and other groups and individuals—as well as in a related case, ASTM v. Public.Resource.Org, supporting Public.Resoure.org.