Georgia's legal battle with public records advocate deepens

The state of Georgia is inching deeper into a legal battle

over whether a version of Georgia's law can be published for free., the nonprofit run by public records activist Carl Malamud, filed a countersuit late Monday seeking a jury trial to decide whether it has the right to publish an annotated version of Georgia code.

It was Malamud's response to a July lawsuit by state legislative officials claiming that Malamud is engaged in a broader plot to force the government to spend taxpayer dollars to make annotated versions free for the website, where Malamud has posted a scan of the annotated code.

The document at the center of the debate isn't Georgia's legal code, which is already available freely online. It's an annotated version of state law chock full of summaries of legal decisions and findings by the state Attorney General that's available in print from LexisNexis for $378.

The state contends that the annotated version is an "original and creative work of authorship" that is protected by copyrights and owned by the state of Georgia. Malamud said in his response that the annotated version should be free of charge because "laws and regulations are in the public domain."

"Laws and regulations do not lose their public domain status and become subject to copyright because they were drafted by a private party as 'works for hire,'" Malamud's nonprofit wrote in its response.

The group also "vehemently denies the bizarre, defamatory and gratuitous allegations that it has a 'strategy of terrorism' in publishing the documents. The state used that term to characterize Malamud's efforts to "force government entities to publish documents on Malamud's terms."

A spokesman for Attorney General Sam Olens declined comment.

It's the latest in a lengthy battle between Georgia legislative leaders and Malamud over copyright issues. Malamud sent a letter to House Speaker David Ralston in May 2013 enclosed with a thumb drive of the document, declaring his purpose "is to promote access to the law by citizens" of the laws that govern them.

He soon received a cease-and-desist letter from state Sen. Josh McKoon, a Columbus Republican who was writing on behalf of a legislative code revision commission. A flurry of letters between Malamud and state officials preceded the federal lawsuit and Monday's countersuit.

You can download a copy of Malamud's filing by clicking right here.

Malamud, meanwhile, published an updated trove of the annotated Georgia code on his website.