May 29, 2013 | By corynne mcsherry

EFF Fights Courtroom Shenanigans After Wrongheaded Copyright Claim Blocks Publication of Federal Law

You should be able to read and understand the law you are required to follow, right?  That’s the mission of Public.Resource.Org, which archives laws and legal standards online for all to see.  But earlier this year, a trade association made a wrongheaded copyright claim to stop Public Resource’s publication of a document detailing important building safety standards that have been adopted into federal law.  With help from EFF and co-counsel Fenwick & West and David Halperin, Public Resource went to federal court to defend its right to publish the law.  But with its bluff called, the trade association is now refusing to defend its position.  Today, we asked the judge to issue a formal ruling that will put an end to these shenanigans so Public Resource can continue its important work.

This started back in January, when the association of Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors (SMACNA) claimed that Public Resource’s publication of a federally mandated 1985 standard on air-duct leakage violated its copyright and demanded the post be removed.  The standard, which was initially developed by SMACNA and then adopted into law, is a crucial element of U.S. federal energy conservation efforts.  Nonetheless, SMACNA no longer even sells the 1985 standard in its website, much less makes it available for free online.  In other words, SMACNA doesn’t want to help you access the law, and it doesn’t want anyone else to do so either.

Perhaps realizing the absurdity of its position, SMACNA has refused to defend it in court.  SMACNA missed the deadline to respond to Public Resource’s complaint and then confirmed that it didn’t intend to file a response.  Meanwhile, the document is still offline – leaving people who need to comply with regulatory obligations without easy access to the document.  

Today, in a motion for default judgment, we asked the court to block SMACNA from using spurious copyright allegations to threaten Public Resource.  As we explain in the brief, U.S. courts have repeatedly held – since 1834! – that the law belongs in the public domain.  This is material that the public can and should publish freely, for everyone’s benefit.  

We look forward to a prompt and favorable ruling so that Public Resource restore the document without fear of further legal action and can get back to its crucial work of improving public access to the law.  A hearing is scheduled for July 19, 2013.

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