The State of Oregon, bless its heart, has begun sending out cease-and-desist letters to websites like Justia and Public.Resource.Org, demanding that the sites take down copies of the Oregon Revised Statutes posted there on the grounds that the posting infringes the State's copyright in the statutes.
The copyright claim is (like a lot of copyright claims these days) probably about 98% horse manure. They're not asserting copyright in the text of the laws themselves, but in the "arrangement and subject matter compilation," the numbering of statutory sections, and the various "tables, indices, and annotations" contained in the documents. Lots of that stuff is simply not copyrightable -- and even as to the stuff in which there might be copyright protection, what makes the State of Oregon so sure that it, and not the various individuals who authored particular sections, owns the copyright to those contributions?
But that's not what burns me up, of course. What burns me up is that the State of Oregon would choose to assert its rather fanciful copyright claim for the purpose of making public access to the authoritative version of its laws more, rather than less, difficult. It is completely outrageous that in 2008 we do not have a complete and authoritative compendium of all of the laws of the 50 States, and the federal government, available at no cost on the net. Oh, did I mention that Thomson-West Publishing publishes and sells the Oregon Revised Statutes (and makes it available, for a fee, over its Westlaw service)? My colleague Peter Martin, of the Cornell Legal Information Institute, has been working on this problem for years and years, and has made some, but far too little, headway -- though I hope he keeps fighting the good fight on this front.
[Thanks to George Byrd for the pointer to this story]