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Copyrighting legal codes


August 20, 2019

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The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal by Georgia lawmakers regarding their ability to copyright annotated versions of their legal codes. If the appeal is granted, it would bar parties from publishing or reproducing such laws without the state’s permission.


Last fall, the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that an annotated version of Georgia laws was “uncopyrightable” because it was “created through the procedural channels in which sovereign power ordinarily flows”. This was a reversal of the trial court decision that held that Carl Malamud was infringing the state’s copyright by freely distributing a copy of the “Official Code of Georgia Annotated”. The annotations in this text were developed by LexisNexis, but the copyrights over them had been assigned to the state.


While it was Georgia lawmakers who appealed the 11th Circuit decision, Malamud also urged the Supreme Court to review the case, hoping that the “uncopyrightable” ruling regarding state legal codes would be made binding across the country. US courts have traditionally held that statutes and court decisions may be freely published because they are part of the public domain, but this Supreme Court case may change that.

Authors: Jaclyn Tilak and Sasha Seeber

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