Corporations Own The Laws
- J.A.I.L. News Journal
Los Angeles, California May 16, 2001Union Tribune
By Kathryn Balint
May 13, 2001Who owns the law?Not the public, at least in the latest court battle over copyright infringement on the Internet. Turns out, the text of the public laws in question belongs to a
private, but influential, organization. That's what a federal judge and an appeals court say. ...
Government at the local, state and federal levels increasingly is enacting laws that have been written and copyrighted by private entities.
California and 47 other states have building laws that are copyrighted by one of three nonprofit organizations. .... "By its very nature, the law belongs to the public," said Malla Pollack, associate professor of law at Northern Illinois University. "For some reason, the U.S. courts do not seem to take seriously the public domain."
The question of who owns the law arose from a homespun Website operated out of Denison, Texas, a little more than an hour's drive from Dallas. It started when retired airline pilot Peter Veeck, 60, set out to renovate a dilapidated building in downtown Denison. He paid $300 for a copy of the region's building code, 1,000 pages of construction laws that dictate everything from how wide a door must be to how far apart nails must be spaced.
Veeck -- "it rhymes with wreck," he says, borrowing a line from late White Sox owner Bill Veeck -- figured he'd do everyone a favor and post the building code on his Web site. No sooner did he get the code up on the Net than he received a threatening e-mail from a lawyer. The lawyer claimed a nonprofit group by the name of the Southern Building Code Congress International Inc. owned the copyright to that set of laws. "Copyright?" Veeck asked. "How can you have a copyright on the law? I was brought up in school to believe the law was public
Veeck hired attorney Eric Weisberg, who thought the case would be a slam dunk. "As far as I'm concerned," Weisberg recalls telling his client, "there
can't be a copyright of the law." That was three years ago. Since then, a federal judge and two out of three judges sitting on an appeals panel have ruled that a private organization can, and does, own the copyright to the local building laws. "It's counterintuitive," Weisberg said. "It's outrageous." ....Starting in the late 1920s, contractors and other construction professionals worried that government was lax about updating building codes. So they formed nonprofit organizations, such as the Southern Building Code Congress, to draft the kind of highly technical, up-to-date regulations they felt were needed to ensure public safety. They encouraged state and local governments to adopt the regulations, at no charge.
The organizations retained the copyright to the text. .... Anyone wanting a copy of the law had to -- and still has to -- buy it from the organization. Try finding California's building code on the state's Website. "The first thing people do is go online to look for Title 24," said state code analyst Michael Nearman, referring to the state's building code by its official number. "They find Title 21, 22, 23 and 25 and go 'Hmmm.' Title 24 is just not there."
One of the most common questions he gets is "Why isn't it on the Web?" The answer, of course, is that California doesn't own the copyright to that particular law. "We explain to people, and they get real upset about it in most cases because they feel like they're paying for this in taxes, so why should they pay for it again?" Nearman said. .... The building code isn't cheap. A printed copy costs $738. ....
The Veeck case personifies the intersection where private copyrights and the public domain collide. Veeck has asked all 18 judges of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider his arguments. More than three dozen law professors, from California to Connecticut, have weighed in with briefs on his side. "Every time I bring up this case to other academic professionals, they all say that such a ruling is impossible," said Pollack, the law professor.
"But such a ruling happened."
She thinks the case could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court because, she says, it raises fundamental issues about due process. The way things stand, Pollack said, citizens have no choice but to pay a private organization to get a copy of a law they're required to obey. "Basically, government is agreeing to allow a private party to make as much money as it can by picking its own price and
selling copies of the law to people who need them," Pollack said.
The Southern Building Code Congress said in court papers it expects to sell $6.7 million worth of building codes over the next 10 years. Like it or not, more and more laws are becoming private property. ....
Copyright 2001 Union-Tribune Publishing Co. http://www.uniontrib.com/news/uniontrib/sun/news/news_1n13own.html
If you have followed what has just been set forth above, you will have figured out one reason why we have such a proliferation of unconstitutional laws. Allow me to recap my understanding of what you have just read. [I am going to insert my own points not proffered by the above article by placing it in brackets.]I am a building contractor. I need to drum up new business for my contracting corporation. In order to do this, I write up a shopping list of new laws that I want on the books to increase my business. I set up a "non-profit" corporation, and copyright my new laws to this "non-profit." I take these new laws to the legislators and convince them that my shopping list of new laws is good for everyone. [The$e legi$lator$ $ee my point.]Now everyone is required to comply with my new laws, and need copies of my copyrighted laws in order to build anything, but they cannot get the law except from me. Since I am the only source from which people can get the law, I can charge just as much as I want for it. I have no competitors. With my government-protected monopoly, I make handsome windfall profits from the people not only just off the sale of the copies of my law they must have to comply, but also off the momentous contracts it brings to my contracting corporation. If anyone tries to make it easy for the people to get the law, such as placing the law on the internet, I threaten them with a lawsuit [because they are cutting into the profits of my non-profit corporation].When I get to court, I just show the judge my copyright monopoly on the law, and I win hands down. [Thus, me and the judges have a cozy conspiracy going against all the people, and there is not a darn thing the people can do about it. So what if I make regular large campaign donations to the re-election fund of the judges. Have fun building throughout any of the 48 states of which I hold a monopoly, and thanks for your patronage!] Did I recap this properly?J.A.I.L. For Judges, where are you?I Am-Ron Branson-J.A.I.L. is an acronym for Judicial Accountability Initiative Law
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