Argument preview: Justices to consider copyrightability of state legislative codes
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Argument preview: Justices to consider copyrightability of state legislative codes

The Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Georgia v Public.Resource.Org next week, on the first day of its December argument session. An outsider might be surprised that the question presented in this case is not well settled. The question is whether the state of Georgia is entitled to copyright protection for the Official Code of Georgia Annotated. This is a typical publication that includes codified versions of Georgia state legislation, as well as a variety of annotations providing background information such as summaries of judicial decisions interpreting the statute. After Public Resource.Org, an organization that promotes access to government records and primary legal sources, scanned the OCGA and published it online, Georgia sued PRO for copyright infringement. The relevant legal terrain is simple and easy to explain. All agree that the “law” itself cannot be protected by copyright; that rule applies both to judicial decisions of Georgia’s courts and to the statutes that its legislature adopts. Interestingly, that rule comes not from the federal Copyright Act (Title 17 of the United States Code), but rather from a trilogy of 19th-century Supreme Court cases, which established the rule as a matter of “public policy” that seemed self-evident to the […]

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