The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in the important public access case of Georgia v. PublicResource.org Inc. The case focuses on Georgia official statutory code with official annotations (the “Official Code of Georgia Annotated” or “OCGA”). OCGA includes the statutes, section titles, statutory histories, guidance from the Georgia Code Revision Commission, judicial summaries, and opinions by the State AG, for example. PublicResources.org bought a copy of the OCGA, copied it, and uploaded it to the internet so that the public could have free access to the law. Georgia then sued for copyright infringement.
The district court held OCGA copyrightable and the 11th Circuit reversed that decision — finding that the “government edicts doctrine” prohibits copyright in this case. One difficulty with with that doctrine is that it was last discussed by the U.S. Supreme Court 130 years ago in Callaghan v. Myers, 128 U.S. 617 (1888) and Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244 (1888).
This Court has held, as a matter of “public policy,” that judicial opinions are not copyrightable. Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244, 253-254 (1888). Lower courts have extended that holding to state statutes. See, e.g., John G. Danielson, Inc. v. Winchester-Conant Props., Inc., 322 F.3d 26, 38 (1st Cir. 2003). But the rule that “government edicts” cannot be copyrighted has “proven difficult to apply when the material in question does not fall neatly into the categories of statutes or judicial opinions.” Ibid.
The question presented is: Whether the government edicts doctrine extends to—and thus renders uncopyrightable—works that lack the force of law, such as the annotations in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.
OCGA is published by LEXIS, but its contents are particularly controlled by the Georgia General Assembly and the Commission (a division of the Assembly). The appellate panel found particularly that “the Commission exercises direct, authoritative control over the creation of the OCGA annotations at every stage of
Although PublicResources won at the appellate court, it agreed that the Supreme Court should hear the case in order to clarify and simplify the law of public access to public information. Current case law “is confusing and outcomes are difficult to predict.”
Briefing in the case will continue over the summer and the Court will likely schedule oral arguments for late 2019.