Update on Oregon Statutes Copyright Spat

Ars Technica reminds us that the copyright squabble between the Legislative Counsel Committee of the State of Oregon (the "Committee") and Justia and Public.Resource.Org is still going on, and it may erupt into a full-on legal battle soon. That would be fine, in my view, because we could use a strong court decision putting to rest the argument that the "arrangement and display" of state statutes are copyrightable. For details on this argument, see my previous post.

After a rather feisty beginning, Carl Malamud from Public.Resource.Org and Tim Stanley from Justia participated in a conference call with Committee representatives in late April, during which they discussed the possibility of a mutually acceptable licensing solution. As part of this negotiation, Oregon proposed a "public license" that would allow Justia and Public.Resource.Org to continue to post the Oregon Revised Statutes. I haven't been able to get a copy of the proposed license itself, but it sounds like it was complicated and restrictive. In a subsequent letter sent to the Committee, Malamud referred to it as the "so-called 'public' license," complained about its lengthiness, and called it "incompatible with how public domain data is distributed."

There's more -- it looks like Justia and Public.Resource.Org are ready to rumble. On May 2, their attorney Karl Olson sent a letter to the Committee unequivocaly rejecting the "public license" and declaring that the parties had reached an impasse:

My clients respectfully cannot agree to the Public License. First, and most fundamentally, it would require them to acknowledge that portions of the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) are protected by copyright, and they respectfully but vigorously disagree that portions of the ORS are protected by copyright.

. . .

. . . We regret that we have reached an impasse but the issue of public access is too important, and the state's assertion of copyright is so broad, that we cannot agree to the proffered Public License.

The letter concludes with an ultimatum of sorts -- it declares Justia and Public.Resource.Org's intention to publish the Oregon Revised Statutes in their entirety, including the portions over which the Committee claims copyright, by June 2, 2008. On second thought, I guess it's not really an ultimatum at all because the letter does not demand anything in return for heading off this outcome. It's simply a challenge. Go Karl, Carl, and Tim!!

Our database entry, Oregon v. Justia, has more factual background and links to the documents.


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