Two big-name legal research companies are battling in federal court over the right to exclusively publish the law—in this case, the Georgia Administrative Rules and Regulations.
The lawsuit (PDF) comes as states across the nation partner with legal research companies to offer exclusive publishing and licensing deals for digitizing and making available online the states’ reams of laws and regulations. The only problem is that the law is not copyrightable—or so says one of the publishers involved in the Georgia litigation. In this instance, District of Columbia-based legal publisher Fastcase wants a judge to fend off a cease-and-desist demand from rival Virginia-based Lawriter, which has been designated as the exclusive publisher (PDF) of Georgia’s compilation (PDF) of the rules and regulations of its state agencies. The lawsuit says:
The Georgia Regulations are binding law—a broad-ranging collection of rules and regulations governing areas from consumer protection to banking to elections. The Georgia Regulations are promulgated by public agencies of the State of Georgia, and published for the benefit of the public by the Georgia Secretary of State, as required by O.C.G.A. § 50-13-7. Defendant Lawriter purports to have exclusive rights to publish the Georgia Regulations. Consistent with this claim of exclusive rights, Lawriter has sent Plaintiff Fastcase a demand that Fastcase remove the Georgia Regulations from its legal research service, which is provided as a free member benefit to members of the State Bar of Georgia. The Georgia Regulations are public law published under statutory mandate and are in the public domain. Defendant cannot claim any exclusive right in, to, or in connection with, the Georgia Regulations. Thus, Fastcase seeks declaratory judgment that Lawriter has no basis from which to prohibit Fastcase from publishing the Georgia Regulations in its subscription legal research service.
Fastcase also says Lawriter “cannot claim a valid copyright or an exclusive license to a valid copyright. It is well established in American law that state laws, including administrative rules and regulations, are not copyrightable, and must remain public as a matter of due process.”
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