The Colorado Office of Legislative Legal Services refused to waive a copyright claim against me, so I could publish the state statutes on this website. Colorado does not electronically publish the statutes for the general public’s consumption. The state government’s websites consistently link to LexisNexis where users have to give up legal rights and agree to a contract to view state laws (see picture below). While researching the Colorado General Assembly’s claim to copyright state statutes, I thought about if other states have legislation copyrighting state legislature’s work. What is the pattern and practice of other states? Well it depends…
Let me start off by clarifying that this is a narrow search. I only looked for state legislatures who expressly asserted or waived a copyright over their own laws. Some states try to claim a copyright over state seals, while others try claim a copyright over administrative codes. That is not the focus of this inquiry.
- Eleven states affirmatively assert a copyright over their state statutes in the statutory text: Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky,Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, South Dakota, Vermont.
- Oregon is the only state legislature which enjoys the periodic discretion to copyright its state statutes (Oregon may copyright its statutes). Oregon got into some hot water back in 2008 when it sent cease and desist letters to online legal clearinghouses who republished the Oregon Revised Statutes on their websites. The claim was ultimately settled out of court after some public blow-back.
- Two states, Montana and Illinois, on the other hand, expressly state that copyright law does not apply to their state statutes. Montana claims the statutes are property held by the state of Montana. Illinois on the other hand says the statutes are completely in the public domain (no one owns them).
- Two states have enacted their own punishments for a state statute copyright violation. The state of Mississippi will pursue a civil violation for no less than $1,000 dollars. South Dakota makes it a criminal violation, a class 2 misdemeanor. These states take their laws seriously!
But why would a state want to copyright the laws anyway? I think a state would argue that it’s laws are so import and fundamental to the operation and nature to the state that it has an important interest in the accuracy and the legitimacy of the statutes. In other words, the state is trying to protect against misinformation. I get it. It is important that individuals correctly informed about the law, so ignorance is no longer an excuse. One way that states accomplish this is by posting the statutes right on official state government websites, often times the state legislatures website.
- Eleven of the states did publish their state laws on official state government websites: Alabama; Idaho; Illinois; Kentucky; Minnesota; Montana; Nebraska; New York; Oregon; South Dakota; Vermont.
- Three of the states did not link state government websites at all: Colorado, Georgia, Mississippi.
- Curiously, all three states’ governments official websites linked to LexisNexis as the official internet source for the state statutes. At least Colorado will not give a reason why they do not publish the statutes themselves.
Many of the states appear to have benign interests with the copyrights, only asserting a copyright for the benefit of the people/state. This makes sense to use the copyright almost as a moral property interest in the laws of the state. It becomes then a defensive tool to ward off reckless or malicious use of the statutes.
Taking all of that information into consideration, it is difficult to discern a pattern or practice. Perhaps one conclusion that could be drawn is only a minority of states enact legislation either asserting or waiving a copyright interest over state statutes. Other than that, the interests are so varied it is difficult to draw too many conclusions. The statutes are below.
*** A few states do not appear to have legislation which expresses a formal legislative direction to periodically file for copyrights on state law. These states include, but are not limited to Maryland and Michigan.
The Code Commissioner shall have each volume of the pamphlet acts of the legislature at each session thereof and each volume of the code copyrighted for the use and benefit of the state.
— Ala. Code § 36-13-5.
Colorado Revised Statutes and ancillary publications thereto, as published, shall be the sole property of the state of Colorado as owner and publisher thereof. The committee, or its designee, may register a copyright for and in behalf of the state of Colorado in any and all original publications and editorial work ancillary to the Colorado Revised Statutes that are prepared by the general assembly or its staff. The committee shall use its best efforts to ensure that any federal copyright registered pursuant to this section is appropriately maintained. Any prior actions of the committee and the revisor in securing such federal copyright are hereby validated.
— Colo. Rev. Stat. § 2-5-115.
To register the copyright claim in all materials in the Code and any supplements thereto, to protect, enforce, and preserve all claims in such materials, to bring and defend actions in any court in connection therewith, and to negotiate and grant licenses or rights, on behalf of the state, to use such material upon such terms and conditions as the commission shall determine to be in the best interest of the state.
— GA Code Ann. § 28-9-3 (15).
Copyright of all compilations shall be taken by and in the name of the publishing company which shall thereupon assign the same to the state of Idaho, and thereafter the same shall be owned by the state of Idaho. The commission is authorized and empowered to grant the use of the copyrights of the Idaho Code published pursuant to Session Laws of 1947, Chapter 224, and of all compilations authorized by this act, in connection with the performance of its said duties and obligations.
— Idaho Code Ann. § 73-210.
The Illinois Compiled Statutes, including the statutes themselves and the organizational and numbering scheme, shall be an official compilation of the general Acts of Illinois and shall be entirely in the public domain for purposes of federal copyright law.
— 25 Ill. Comp. Stat. 135/5.04.
The information identified in subsection (1) of this section shall be made available to the public by means of access by way of the largest nonproprietary, nonprofit cooperative public computer network. The information shall be made available in one (1) or more formats and by one (1) or more means in order to provide the greatest feasible access to the general public in this Commonwealth. Any person who accesses the information may access all or any part of the information. The information shall be made available in the shortest feasible time after the information is available to the Legislative Research Commission.
— Ken. Rev. Stat. § 7.500 (2)
No action taken pursuant to this section shall be deemed to alter or relinquish any copyright or other proprietary interest or entitlement of the Commonwealth of Kentucky relating to any of the information made available under this section.
— Ken. Rev. Stat. § 7.500 (7).
[T]he revisor shall send the appropriate number to the Library of Congress for copyright and depository purposes.
— Minn. Laws § 3c.12 (m).
(1) Copyrights of the Mississippi Code of 1972 and the notes, annotations, and indexes thereof, shall be taken by and in the name of the publishers of the compilation who shall thereafter promptly assign the same to the State of Mississippi and be owned by it. (2) All parts of any act passed by the Mississippi Legislature, or of any code published or authorized to be published by the Joint Committee on Compilation, Revision and Publication of Legislation, including, without limitation, catchlines or frontal analyses; numbers assigned to sections, articles, chapters and titles; historical citations or source lines; editor’s notes; amendment notes; cross references; annotations; and summaries of judicial decisions and Attorney General’s opinions, shall become and remain the exclusive property of the State of Mississippi, to be used only as the joint committee may direct. (3) (a) If any person or entity uses any part of any act passed by the Mississippi Legislature, or any part of any code published or authorized to be published by the joint committee, in any manner other than as authorized by the committee, the person or entity shall be subject to a civil penalty of not less than One Thousand Dollars ($ 1,000.00) for each violation, and each day upon which a violation occurs shall be deemed a separate and additional violation. (b) If the joint committee suspects that any person or entity is violating or has violated this section, the Attorney General shall investigate the matter upon the request of the joint committee. If the Attorney General determines, after investigation, that the person or entity is violating or has violated this section, the Attorney General shall institute an action to impose a civil penalty against the person or entity, or seek injunctive relief against the person or entity to prevent further violations of this section, or both, as requested by the joint committee.
— Miss. Code Ann. § 1-1-9.
The Montana Code Annotated, supplements, or other publications ancillary thereto, as published, are the sole property of the state of Montana and may not be copyrighted.
— Mont. Code Ann. § 1-11-304
The Revisor of Statutes shall cause the supplements and reissued volumes to be copyrighted under the copyright laws of the United States for the benefit of the people of Nebraska. The supplements and reissued or replacement volumes shall be sold and distributed by the Supreme Court at such price as shall be prescribed by the Executive Board of the Legislative Council, which price shall be sufficient to recover all costs of publication. The Supreme Court may sell for one dollar per volume any compilation or revision of the statutes of Nebraska that has been superseded by a later official revision, compilation, or replacement volume. The Supreme Court may dispose of any unsold superseded volumes in any manner it deems proper. All money received by the Supreme Court shall be paid into the state treasury to the credit of the General Fund. The court shall take receipts for all such money paid into the state treasury.
— Neb. Rev. Stat. § 49-707.
The copyright of the statement of facts, of the head notes and of all other notes or references prepared by the law reporting bureau must be taken by and shall be vested in the secretary of state for the benefit of the people of the state. The secretary of state is authorized by a writing filed in his office to grant to any person, firm or corporation, under such terms and conditions as he and the chief judge of the state of New York may determine to be for the best interests of the state, the right to publish the above mentioned copyrighted matter.
— N.Y. Jud. Law § 438.
The Legislative Administration Committee may adopt rules to carry out its duties under statute or legislative rules or directives, including setting and collecting fees for facilities and services and obtaining copyrights and patents on copyrightable or patentable materials developed, published or produced by committee staff.
— Ore. Rev. Stat. § 173.770 (1).
The South Dakota code commission shall provide the material authorized for publication by § 2-16-6 will be copyrighted by the state of South Dakota, in the name of the state of South Dakota. The commission may contract with printers, publishers and computer retrieval companies for use of the state’s copyright.
— S.D. Codified Laws § 2-16-8
Except as authorized by federal copyright law, no person may print or distribute copyrighted material from the South Dakota Codified Laws without the express authorization of the Code Commission. A violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
— S.D. Codified Laws § 2-16-8.1
(a) The legislative council shall continuously maintain and update a formal topical revision of existing permanent statutory law to be known as the Vermont Statutes Annotated. The topical revision shall be arranged in a systematic and annotated form that is consolidated into the smallest practical number of volumes and indexes. (b) The legislative council, on behalf of the state of Vermont, shall hold the copyright to the Vermont Statutes Annotated.
— Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 2, § 421.