Alex Goldman is a producer for On the Media. One time he got run over by a car.
Carl Malamud is Making Laws More Public
Tuesday, May 15, 2012 - 10:21 AM
Last month, we spoke to government transparency activist Carl Malamud about his plan to publish safety standards that are incorporated into law. These standards regulate things like water treatment, building design, even bike helmets, but since they are copyrighted by the industry organizations that write them, if you want to read them, you have to pay upwards of hundreds of dollars. Yesterday, Malamud published the first batch of these standards on his website, public.resource.org.
In our interview last month, Malamud says that this "incorporation by reference" - the act of writing a law or regulation that refers to, but doesn't explicitly include, safety standards - violates the spirit of the American system of laws.
MALAMUD: Regulations are published in full but they don’t publish the actual standard, they simply publish the fact that the standard has been incorporated. And then they put the address of the standards body that sells it. So if you want to read the full text of the law, you have to go where these non-profits are headquartered or go on the Web and, and pay for these things.
There is a principle in American law that the law doesn’t belong to the government, it belongs to the people. And because of that, there’s no copyright on the law. It – it isn’t private property. It’s available for everybody. And if you have to charge 500 dollars to read the law, then all of a sudden it becomes a poll tax on access to justice.
There's a chance that Malamud could get sued for copyright infringement for posting these safety standards on his website, but he believes he has the force of the law behind him. In a 2002 case called Veeck v. SBCCI, the US court of appeals - 5th circuit ruled that the posting of building codes "represents a continuous understanding that 'the law,' whether articulated in judicial opinions or legislative acts or public ordinances, is in the public domain and thus not amenable to copyright."
We will continue to cover this story as Malamud publishes more standards and if there is any blowback from his decision to make them public. In the meantime, you can take a look at the currently published standards for everything from "Steel Above Ground Tanks for Flammable and Combustible Liquids" to "International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code" by following this link.