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The Latest Copyright Case Before the Supreme Court: Can Georgia’s Official Annotated Code Receive Copyright Protection?


In December of 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States heard oral arguments in the case of Georgia v Public Resource—the latest major copyright case to go before the nation’s highest court. The key legal issue that is at stake in this case: To what extent does the government edicts doctrine render published works that lack the force of law ineligible for copyright protection? Below, our Miami copyright litigation attorneys provide an overview of the details in the case.

Case Analysis: Georgia v Public Resource 

Georgia Entered an Agreement With a Private Company to Create an Annotated Code 

The dispute in this case involves an organization (Public Resource) and its publishing of an annotated version of Georgia’s legal code; specifically, the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, which consists of summaries, notes, commentaries, historical explanations, and bits of information designed to provide context to the law. Notably, the annotated code was prepared based on a joint agreement between a division of LexisNexis—a major legal research corporation—and the State of Georgia.

A Non-Profit Organization Published the Entire Work Online 

Public Resource is a non-profit organization that has a stated goal of providing the public access to government documents and records. In 2013, Public Resource bought access to the entire Official Code of Georgia Annotated and published it online—to be freely used by all parties. Soon after, Public Resource was sent a cease and desist letter. The letter stated that the non-profit organization was in violation of copyright law. They refused to comply and did not take the material off of their website.

Legal Defense: Government Edicts Doctrine

In 2015, Public Resource was sued in federal court for copyright infringement. The non-profit argued that it did not violate copyright law. It raised a defense under the government edicts doctrine—which states that judicial decisions and statutes are not copyrightable. However, the court disagreed. It ruled that the Official Code of Georgia Annotated lacks force of law and, therefore, is not covered by the doctrine. On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the decision. Based on the way it is drafted and the fact that it was created as part of an “official” agreement between LexisNexis and the Georgia state government, the appeals court ruled that the annotated code is not copyrightable.

The Supreme Court Must Decide: What are the Limits of the Doctrine?

The copyright dispute is now in front of the Supreme Court. The nation’s top court must determine the limits of the government edicts doctrine. After oral arguments, observers noted that the justices appeared split on the issue. A decision is expected by June of 2020.

Call Our Miami, FL Copyright Litigation Attorneys for Immediate Assistance

At Pike & Lustig, LLP, our Florida copyright lawyers are attentive, solutions-oriented advocates for our clients. To get a confidential, no obligation copyright law consultation, please call us today. We represent individuals and companies in copyright matters in Miami, West Palm Beach, Coral Gables, Fort Lauderdale, and in communities throughout Southeast Florida.




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