[I]n the real world, judicial decisions and laws and regulations can be exceedingly hard to find without paying for them, either in book form or online. And that doesn’t even include quasi-official material like the numeric codes doctors are required to use when filing for Medicaid or Medicare payments or the fire safety codes that builders are required to follow.
“The law is pretty clear that laws and judicial opinions and regulations are not protected by copyright laws,” said Pamela Samuelson, a professor at Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. “That isn’t to say that people aren’t going to try.”
A favorite method of trying, as Ms. Samuelson and other legal scholars explain, is to copyright the accoutrements surrounding the public material. So while the laws and court decisions themselves may be in the public domain, the same is not necessarily true for the organizational system that renders them intelligible or the supporting materials that put them into context.
In other words: the beer is free, but you have to pay for a specially designed stein. Of course, you could always choose to cup your hands.
[…] “So many people have been moving into the public domain and putting up fences,” [Carl Malamud] said in an interview from his office in Sebastopol, Calif., where he runs a one-man operation, public.resource.org, on a budget of about $1 million a year. Much of that money goes to buy material, usually in print form, that he then scans into his computer and makes available on the Internet without restriction.