Georgia accuses transparency activist of using ‘strategy of terrorism’

Carl Malamud is accused of engaging in a broader plot to force the government to spend taxpayer dollars to make annotated versions free for the public.resource.org website.
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Carl Malamud is accused of engaging in a broader plot to force the government to spend taxpayer dollars to make annotated versions free for the public.resource.org website.

The state of Georgia has filed a federal lawsuit against a well-known public records activist that claims he is engaging in a "strategy of terrorism" by publishing an annotated version of Georgia state law on his website.

The lawsuit, lodged last week with a US. District Court in Atlanta, claims that Carl Malamud's nonprofit is waging a broader plot to force the government to spend taxpayer dollars to make annotated versions free for the public.resource.org website, where Malamud has posted a scan of the annotated code.

Attorneys representing the Georgia Legislature aren't contesting Malamud's right to publish the statutes themselves, which the complaint said "are and should be free to the public." The lawsuit centers on an annotated version of state law packed with summaries of important legal decisions and findings by the state's attorney general that's available in print from LexisNexis for $378.

The state says 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 an interview Tuesday that there should be no distinction from the two.

“In America, you’re allowed to speak the law. And that’s what this is about. The law is owned by the people — it’s not owned by the civil servants,” he said. “And to somehow say the annotations are separate — that you can have the sandwich for free but you have to buy the mayonnaise that’s already on it — is ridiculous.”

The lawsuit is the latest in a long pattern of legal tussles between Malamud and state authorities. Oregon officials threatened a legal battle several years ago after a similar fight, but they backed down after holding public hearings on the matter. Malamud said he’s now fighting with about six other states over copyright issues.

The negotiations in Georgia have taken a more tortured path. 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 the Legislature's Code Revision Commission, which ultimately filed the legal challenge. A flurry of letters between Malamud and state officials preceded the federal lawsuit.

Malamud, once described in The New York Times as the "Robin Hood of the information age," said granting the public access to the annotated version of the code will also lead to a wave of innovation that can make it more easily accessible online.

“Anyone who wants to do business in Georgia and any resident and certainly any lawyer — they all need access to the law,” he said.

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