Tag Archives: statutes

States Who Assert a Copyright in State Statutes

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: AlabamaIdahoIllinoisKentuckyMinnesotaMontanaNebraskaNew YorkOregonSouth DakotaVermont.
  •  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.

      Colorado Government Links to LexisNexis for official state statute publication.
      Colorado Government links to LexisNexis for official state statute publication.

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.

New York

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).

South Dakota

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.

A Case for Ignorance of Colorado Law – Revisited

This post is a follow-up post to A Case for Ignorance of Colorado Law, where I detailed my trials and tribulations of trying to read the Colorado Revised Statutes. My previous article focused generally on how the system is screwed up.

Here is a quick recap of the situation.   If you try to look up a Colorado state statute on the internet it appears any official state government website will redirect you to a private website, LexisNexis.  To enter LexisNexis’ website the user needs to agree to the terms and service of the site which include a disclaimer of liability and a choice of forum clause.  Then to compound the situation the Colorado legislature severely restricts the distribution of the state statutes.  If I wanted to provide a copy of the state statutes here, free to download, it is likely the Colorado legislature could sue me for violating Colo. Rev. Stat. § 2-5-118.  So if ignorance is no excuse to know the law, citizens in Colorado are placed between a virtual rock and a virtual hard place when trying to access the state statutes online.

So let me start out this post by clarifying legally where I think there are legal problems: 1. Colorado’s contract with LexisNexis to provide the state statutes online violates free speech and due process protections; and 2. The Legislature’s restriction on distribution and dissemination of the statutes violates free speech and due process protections as well as federal copyright law.

What is the problem?  Doesn’t the mere fact that the statutes are on the internet suffice?  Probably not.  This is starting to get into an emerging area of the law where the internet, free speech, and due process all converge.

State Rules

To be fair, let’s see what Colorado’s Constitution and statutes have to say about the issue.  As a preface to this section, I want to warn that I did not find much information directly on point.  Furthermore, some of the statutes seem to conflict.

A little surprisingly, the Colorado Constitution says little on this subject.  “The general assembly shall provide for the publication of the laws passed at each session thereof.” Colo. Const. art. VIII, § 8. This section is squeezed between land value increases and limited gaming permitted sections.  Fortunately, the state statutes clarify. “[T]he state acknowledges its obligation to provide official sets of statutes that are reasonably priced, accurate, and easy to use.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 2-5-105.  The state of Colorado holds itself to the standard of just having to make the statutes available.  People may have to purchase them, but they have to be available.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s website also warns that there is a limit to the fair use of the state statutes.  “In addition, any person wishing to reprint and distribute all or a substantial part of the statutes in either printed or electronic format must obtain prior permission of the Committee on Legal Services; permission is not required to reprint fewer than 200 sections of C.R.S. (please see §2-5-118, C.R.S.).”  Also the legislature expressly reserves the right to limit reprint and distribution of the statutes.  Colo. Rev. Stat. § 2-5-118.  I guess that is why I could only find the statutes linked to on LexisNexis.  Honestly, I think this is just comical the state of Colorado is asserting a copyright claim to limit distribution. “Judge, you know, these people need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, for reprinting too much of the law.”

Colorado Secretary of State's website notes the statute asserting a state copyright over the Colorado Revised Statutes
Colorado Secretary of State’s website notes the statute asserting a state copyright over the Colorado Revised Statutes

To throw salt into the wound a little, and then rub it in a bit, the Colorado Secretary of State’s website publishes on it’s official website both current and pending Code of Colorado Regulations.  To put matters into perspective this includes all of the codes and rules pertaining to bingo and raffle games.  Apparently bingo and raffle game regulations are important enough to have official copies placed on official state websites without being forced to sign a contract with a third-party.  So we know that Colorado doesn’t get overly protective about everything — the codes and regulations are fair game.  It is the state statutes that they are overly possessive about.

It turns out Oregon asserted a copyright over it’s statutes and starting sending out cease and desist letters for unauthorized distribution.  The legal argument later settled amicably out of court.

If there is any solace for the people of Colorado, at least the Colorado legislature has not threatened to sue them yet for trying to distribute state law.

Free Speech and Federal Copyright Law

Colorado’s claims about the state statutes violate free speech protections and are not supported by federal copyright law.

The state of Colorado unfairly restricts free speech rights under the United States Constitution.  By forcing a contract upon a person before they can even view the state statutes anywhere on the internet could constitute a prior restraint on speech and a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution.  Prior restraints can take different forms, but here it is the restrictions on speech before it occurs.  The state statutes may be an unconstitutional prior restraint because they say what, I or anyone, may do with the statutes before I get a chance to use them.  A second prior restraint comes from the forced contract with LexisNexis.  LexisNexis is acting as an agent of the Colorado government by being the official host of the state statutes.  While acting on the government’s behalf it forces me to accept disclaimers, choice of forum clauses, etc. if I want to see the laws.  The choice of forum clause my restricts my liberty to file a lawsuit about Copyright to a court in New York, even though nothing has to do with New York in this case.  See generally Southeastern Promotions, Ltd. v. Conrad, 420 U.S. 546 (1975). Both instances are most likely prior restraints and a violation of free speech protections.

Then Colorado has this wacky copyright law too.  Copyright law is federal law and if Colorado decided to sue someone to assert their copyright over the Colorado Statutes, the suit would have to be filed in federal court.  The United States government determines what is copyrightable and what is not.  The statute states copyright protection is not available for the United States Government. See 17 U.S.C. § 105.  The statute does not clarify if it is meant to encompass state and local governments, or even governmental contractors.  This decision has been left to the courts.

The good news is a federal court of appeals case is pretty close to on point and provides some direction.  A Texas man put up two municipal building codes on his non-commercial website.  The cities based their municipal code largely upon the purchased model code written by Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. (SBCCI), a non-profit, non-governmental organization.  Unable to easily locate the cities’ codes, the Plaintiff purchased the model codes directly from SBCCI for $72.  Along with the purchased code came a copyright notice that forbade copies or distributions of the model code.  Plaintiff cut and pasted the model code and placed it on his website.  SBCCI claimed copyright infringement.

Lawmaking bodies in this country enact rules and regulations only with the consent of the governed. The very process of lawmaking demands and incorporates contributions by “the people,” in an infinite variety of individual and organizational capacities…In performing their function, the lawmakers represent the public will, and the public are the final “authors” of the law.

Veeck v. S. Bldg. Code Cong. Int’l, 293 F.3d 791, 799 (5th Cir. 2005) (en banc).

I don’t think that the legislature’s claims about a copyright interest hold much water.

In fact, it also potentially violates Colorado Open Records Act (CORA (and I will link to the Colorado Secretary of State’s summation instead of LexisNexis on this one)).  The general rule is “all public records shall be open for inspection by any person at reasonable times.”  Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-72-201.  The forced contract by LexisNexis probably violates the open records act because then the statute is not genuinely open for inspection.  It is only open for inspection if the terms of service are agreed to beforehand. 

Due Process

Colorado’s treatment of the state statutes also violates procedural due process.

Due process is the idea of fundamental fairness in our justice system. “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” Colo. Const. art. II, § 25; See also U.S. Const. amend V. 

First, we need to start of with the principle that ignorance of the law is not an excuse. Lambert v. California, 335 U.S. 225, 228 (1957).  “Based on the notion that the law is definite and knowable, the common law presumed that every person knew the law. This common-law rule has been applied by the Court in numerous cases construing criminal statutes.” Cheek v. United States, 498 U.S. 192, 199 (1992).  It stands to reason how the government can expect citizens to know the law, but to place severe limits on its distribution.  A reference is necessary to know the law in the present day.  The complexity and breadth make knowing it without a reference prohibitive.  The Court even acknowledges that fact in regards to tax law in Cheek.

Part of what comprises due process is notice.  “Engrained in our concept of due process is the requirement of notice. Notice is sometimes essential so that the citizen has the chance to defend charges. Notice is required before property interests are disturbed, before assessments are made, before penalties are assessed. Notice is required in a myriad of situations where a penalty or forfeiture might be suffered for mere failure to act.” Lambert v. California, 335 U.S. 225, 228 (1957).   In other words, a fair fight requires both parties to know the rules of the game.  Even if you do not know the rules of the game, you need to at least be given a chance to learn them or prepare, which is the essence of notice.

Due process requires people to have notice of what the law requires of them so that they may obey it and avoid its sanctions. So long as the law is generally available for the public to examine, then everyone may be considered to have constructive notice of it; any failure to gain actual notice results from simple lack of diligence. But if access to the law is limited, then the people will or may be unable to learn of its requirements and may be thereby deprived of the notice to which due process entitles them.

Building Officials & Code Adm. v. Code Technology, Inc., 628 F.2d 730, 734-35 (1st Cir. 1980).

The first problem is not where the Colorado Statutes are located online, it is the hoops that one is required to go through in order to read them.  “A primary purpose of the notice required by the Due Process Clause is to ensure that the opportunity for a hearing is meaningful.” City of W. Covina v. Perkins, 525 U.S. 234, 241 (1999).  Colorado’s statutes lose their meaningfulness when a user must submit to LexisNexis’ terms of service.

The second problem is the copyright restrictions on dissemination.  In criminal prosecutions especially, it is not fair for the government to have complementary copies of the statutes and for the citizenry to be subject to copyright violations.  For an equal playing field, the statutes should be available without restrictions to both parties.


Honestly, I just hope the state of Colorado changes it’s policies and puts the statutes up on the legislature’s website, accessible to everyone, for free, without having to sign a contract.  And any claims to a copyright of the Colorado Statutes should be waived immediately by the government.


Colorado Law – A Case for Ignorance

Ignorantia legis neminem excusat.  Otherwise in English: there is no excuse for ignorance of the law.  But in the case of the state of Colorado, I will argue that there is state created room for an ignorance of the law.

Interested in Colorado law, I wanted to read up on the statutory law.  This turned out much tougher than I previously had thought it would be.  First things first, I am currently living in Arizona. While I visit Colorado a couple of times a year, taking a trip down to the local library to read the statutes was not an option.  So I went to look online — it is the year 2014, the statutes must be online right?

This is where things get perplexing, frustrating, and downright irritating as a citizen trying to civically educate himself.  The statutes are linked to a private third-party service, LexisNexis, from several official Colorado governmental websites: Colorado Legislature (where they make the laws); Colorado.gov (where there is even a tutorial on how to use the non-governmental service); Colorado Attorney General (click on an individual statute); Colorado Secretary of State; and probably countless other websites within the state government. Other than it being really lazy for Colorado not to have their statutes on their own website…. I mean how much can it cost to store and transmit a bunch of text?  The priorities of the state are quickly seen from their homepage where there is a large revolving banner ad which promotes Colorado’s technological savyness: “renew your driver’s license online today”; Colorado.gov/renewtags (for auto registration); the link to DORA (Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies.  But nowhere in the entire web of Colorado governmental websites are the state statutes.

The state presumes for you to know the law, but to read the law you must enter into a contract of adhesion (a forced agreement) with a private company (LexisNexis) in order to know the law.

Clicking on the links from any of the state governmental websites took me to LexisNexis where I then tried to read the laws.  As I think I might get to the laws, finally, I get hit with this huge sign (seen screenshot below) telling me that I must agree to this private company’s terms of service to even read the laws of the state of Colorado — if I do not agree, I cannot read the laws.

Acceptance Agreement to Read Colorado Statutes
Acceptance Agreement to Read Colorado Statutes

Here is the text from the screenshot:

This website is maintained by LexisNexis®, the publisher of the Colorado Revised Statutes, to provide free public access to the law. It is not intended to replace professional legal consultation or advanced legal research tools. To report errors regarding this website, please complete the Feedback Form.

Terms & Conditions
Your use of this service is subject to Terms and Conditions. Please indicate your agreement to the Terms and Conditions by clicking “I Agree” below.

Are you kidding me?  I have to basically sign a contract with a third party in order to view the laws of Colorado on the Internet?  Maybe it is just me.  Maybe it is too much to expect the government who is enforcing their laws to actually have a copy of them on their website.

The University of Denver School of Law does not think much of it as it instructs on its website to view and use the Colorado Revised Statutes. “The C.R.S. (Colorado Revised Statutes) are made available for public use by the Committee on Legal Services of the Colorado General Assembly through LexisNexis. The state of Colorado owns the copyright to the statutes (See C.R.S. 2-5-115).”  Apparently, the law school does not think anything of instructing people to enter a contract of adhesion (a forced contract) with LexisNexis to read the Colorado laws.

Let’s see what sorts of things are the Terms & Conditions that must be agreed to before one is allowed entry.  I will comb through these in chronological order picking out the ones I find interesting.

“8. Advertisers. This Web Site may contain advertising and sponsorship. Advertisers and sponsors are responsible for ensuring that material submitted for inclusion on this Web Site is accurate and complies with applicable laws. Provider will not be responsible for the illegality of or any error or inaccuracy in advertisers’ or sponsors’ materials or for the acts or omissions of advertisers and sponsors.”

Advertisers?  I did not see any advertisers when viewing the Colorado Statutes…but this leaves open the door for Budweiser, Marlboro, or Betty Crocker to advertise and perhaps sponsor the Colorado Revised Statutes in the future.  Just think of the opportunities…”The Colorado Criminal Code is brought you by the sponsorship of Ficticious Brand Bailbondsmen.” Oh, Colorado.


Lawyers write things in all capitals because things are important.  They want to get your attention and for your to read it.  Never mind, that studies show that it is more difficult to read and comprehend information that is typed in all bold — that is a discussion for another day.  This paragraph disclaims LexisNexis’ liability.  LexisNexis says that you or I cannot hold them responsible for any errors or omissions from their website.  Hmmm.  That is interesting.  What if there is an error in one of the Statutes that materially (a good legal word) affects the meaning?  LexisNexis is basically saying, “we’re sorry, but it is not our problem.  You were forced agree not to hold us liable to even read the Statutes.”

“22. Governing Law and Jurisdiction. The Terms of Use are governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of New York and any action arising out of or relating to these terms shall be filed only in state or federal courts located in New York and you hereby consent and submit to the personal jurisdiction of such courts for the purpose of litigating any such action.”

The irony of this term is awesome.  If I have a problem reading, accessing, or using the Colorado Statutes that rises to the level of litigation, I am forced to use the laws of the State of New York.  Hahaha.  I think that speaks for itself.

Now, I know the statutes are available at local libraries throughout Colorado, and probably other governmental organizations in print format.  My point is as the print format is continually being supplemented, if not replaced by the internet, is it really fair in the name of justice to force citizens to sign a contract to read the laws of the state?

If I do not want to sign all my rights away to LexisNexis just to read the Colorado Revised Statutes online, doesn’t that support the case for ignorance of the law, at least just a little bit?