Sunday, September 29, 2002

Andy says that various professional organizations are petitioning the US Supreme Court to let them write model laws, copyright them, lobby for their passage, and charge money for anyone who wants a copy. The case is Veeck v. SBCCI. Veeck put some building codes for his area in Texas on the internet, and got sued for copyright infringement. He lost in district court, lost 2-1 on his first appeal, and won 6-4 on his second.

The petition by the copyright lobby is superficially persuasive, but it rests on bad facts, bad economics, bad policy, and bad law. As Andy points out, there are no facts to support the argument, except self-serving claims by SBCCI management that they'd lose money-making opportunities. The bad economics is to think that letting private companies sell legal codes is an efficient way to development good legal codes. The bad policy is to let private, unaccountable, revenue-driven businessmen gain a monopoly on the text of the law. (At one point it brags that one private copyrighted code "has been adopted in all fifty states, Puerto Rico, Guam, and by the federal government.") The bad law is to think that any of this is a basis for reverse an 1888 Sup. Ct. precedent.

Here is one of its silly points:

As a practical matter, throughout our history, even the non-copyrighted portions of statutes and judicial decisions have been available only to lawyers, law schools, and libraries willing to pay the commercial publishers such as West Publishing who actually print and distribute the text of statutes and opinions.

Andy is writing an amicus brief for the case. Because of the similarity to the case involving the AMA/Medicare CPT codes for medical services, I have posted a copy of the medical codes here. As you can see, they are just a bunch of 5-digit numbers that are used to describe billable services, such as "chest x-ray".

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