© Is for California


You might think that there’s nothing a government won’t try. You’d be right. But I was near stupified to learn that the state of California copyrights its laws. And it’s not alone.

The state tries to control — through copyright — how you can access its laws, where and how you store them, etc. The state makes available its building codes, plumbing standards and criminal laws online, but requires you to ask for permission to download them!

The state’s out to make money. It charges $1,556 for a digital version, more for a print-out, and makes nearly a million dollars a year selling what is legally ours.

Yes, what’s ours. We are a nation of laws, not of men, and we have the right to own and reprint our laws as much as we want. The purpose of copyright is to ensure private parties can maintain some control over their intellectual property. But the laws themselves are, in point of elementary political theory, the intellectual property of all. Not of state bureaus.

Thankfully, heroic Internet technician and mover and shaker Carl Malamud believes in government transparency. And he, unlike Al Gore, really worked to help build the Internet.

On Labor Day Mr. Malamud published the whole California code online. Available for free.

Obviously, Malamud is spoiling for a fight. Good. He should win it. He has, after all, the law (if not the state) on his side.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

5 Comments so far ↓

  1. Sep
    Orville Seymer


    This is getting out of control. It is a little known secret that many building inspection depts. have used the International Fire Code for quite a few years. This is an organization that develops their fire code without any input from elected officials or citizens. It is more than 4,000 pages long so it is doubtful that it will ever be on the best seller list and it is proprietary information which means that if you really did want to get a copy, you would have to pay for it.

  2. Sep
    Paul D Blumstein

    I am told by a lawyer friend (who is not an expert on this matter) that the copyright doesn’t apply to the law itself but to annotations re: the law on that website. The law itself is free from many sources, including the state itself. See http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.html

    Other Paul

  3. Oct
    Joel Smith

    We live in surreal times. As a native Californian and former resident, it never ceases to amaze me what lengths gov’t will go to, to increase fees and taxes… rather than become more efficient and reduce overhead.

    September 22nd, just 3 weeks ago today, the DOW suffered it’s largest single point drop in one day ever. A few days later McCain ‘suspends’ his campaign to attend to urgent national business.

    The ‘news’ that evening on September 22nd in NYC, Mayor Bloomberg discussed the cuts in staff that were being made locally + a SEVEN PERCENT tax INCREASE that was going into effect for the next year. Unbelievable!!!

    Happily, I have been retired for the past 7+ years in sunny Lake Chapala, Mexico. The quality of life is excellent and the cost of living allows us to easily live on one social security check with out feeling like we are missing anything. I live in a 3,000 square foot villa and pay under $100.00 US in property taxes (which includes garbage pick up 6 days a week) http://www.CasaPreciosaAjijic.com

  4. Nov
    Jim McMenamin

    Hooray for Carl Malamud! I thought government was developed by the people for the people.

    The nerve of trying to charge people for information that is supposed to be public record. It’s a joke and I hope this practice stops in California. Taxes are bad enough, why does the government feel the need to nickel and dime their constituants?

  5. Apr
    Jake Witmer

    I strongly suggest that those who are interested in government secrecy check out the website http://www.papersplease.org/gilmore

    In the case “Gilmore v. Ashcroft” that became “Gilmore v Gonzalez” and is now “Gilmore v. Holder” (but in legal limbo), the Federal Government actually now has admitted that it has produced “secret laws”. (laws that we are accountable to obey, but that are not EVER made available to us, even if we pay!!!)

    So much for the law being accessible to all. I strongly suggest that if you are not currently an enemy of our unconstitutional government, that you take a look at the “papers please” website. That way, you can better ponder Benjamin Franklin’s advice (from his old woodcut of the segmented snake). At least you won’t be surprised when you’re “detained for chipping” the next time you fly.

    (It’s for your own good! –Not to mention the safety of your government handlers!)

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