Federal appeals court rules Georgia laws are public domain
Federal appeals court rules Georgia laws are public domain

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled Friday that annotations that were “made an inextricable part of Georgia’s laws” cannot be copyrighted by the state.

The court said that in general, laws cannot be copyrighted because they are “authored by the People.” After examining the identity of the authors, the authority of the annotations, and the process of writing the annotations, the court concluded “that the annotations in the [Official Code of Georgia Annotated] are sufficiently law-like so as to be properly regarded as a sovereign work,”that is, a work created by the people.”

The intellectual property suit was brought by Georgia against Public.Resource.Org after the organization had posted free copies of the annotated laws online. Previously, the annotations (as well as statutes and court opinions) were only available behind a pay-wall. Public.Resource.Org paid for the copies of the laws that it posted.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which had submitted an amicus brief, praised the decision. The organization said, “the court added to centuries of precedent holding that, in a democracy, the people are sovereign and so are the ultimate authors and owners of the law. This is the right vision of democracy—and in Georgia, it means the law is finally free.”