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Update: Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) Copyright Dispute

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The following represents my opinion, from my perspective as an Oregon public law librarian:

My previous posts on this subject are here and here and here.

I’ve been reading, among other things, the blog Comments about the Oregon Legislative Counsel “copyright” dispute and my reaction yesterday and still today is: we don’t have all the facts so please don’t jump to conclusions.

What I do know is:

1) I am fully in favor of free, public access to the laws of the land – it is my job, and my purpose in life I dare say, to make sure people have access to them. However, I also know that it is absolutely, positively critically important that people have access to the actual law, the official law, the actual, official authenticated law. Sometimes the only way that is possible is to direct people to the government office that publishes that law, however flawed its online production is.

2) Oregon Leg Counsel is making valid and important points. It isn’t clear to many of us that they are withholding use of the ORS on another public database. Maybe they are and maybe they are not, but to some it looks as if they just wanted to be asked about republication, as all copyright holders would. (Wouldn’t you?)

3) As copyright holders (and see also Creative Commons copyright holders), Oregon Legislative Counsel are entitled to be asked for permission to use their database. There’s still a awful lot we don’t know about the conversations and other communications between the two parties, but I wouldn’t jump to making Legislative Counsel the bad guy. And don’t assume they would have denied use of or access to their database.

4) Keep in mind also, that state government document copyright is the one thing that has helped protect many states from having their legislatures sell off the family silver to private legal publishers in order to make some fast money, without thought to what that outsourcing could do to free public access to the laws. Talk to state law librarians, state court judges, and others about their interactions with the multinational legal publishing companies. Oregon is not the only state that has had to fight hard to keep its official publications in print, for the benefit all members of the public, and not just have them sold off to the highest bidder, and abdicating their own responsibility for keeping the laws ultimately the People’s Laws.

5) An awful lot of people Commenting on the story don’t understand what a code or what the process of “codification” is. (Not to mention that they clearly don’t understand the difference between Oregon Laws and the ORS and don’t seem to have made any effort to learn.) They also don’t understand that preserving to the people the right to official, authenticated publication of government documents is a battle that law and government documents librarians fight daily and have done so for decades.

6) Finally, there was also a Comment that referred to “a Texas case” and I assume it was to Veeck, which was out of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1999. The analogy wasn’t totally off-base, but the person apparently didn’t even read the case – and yes, it is very well worth reading.

None of this that I say above is to imply that there isn’t a legitimate grievance by public.resource.org, but we really do need to wait and find out more first.