Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org., Inc.

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Copyright
  • Date Filed: April 27, 2020
  • Case #: 18-1150
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, GORSUCH, and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ALITO, J., joined, and in which BREYER, J., joined as to all but Part II–A and footnote 6. GINSBURG, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BREYER, J., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

The Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 102(a), does not provide protection to the annotations contained in Georgia’s official annotated code.

Petitioner, through the Code Revision Commission, works with private agencies to draft yearly editions of statutory text and annotations, known as the Official Code of Georgia Annotated ("OCGA").  Petitioner provides a free online version of the unannotated text.  Respondent operates a nonprofit intended to increase public access to government records and legal materials.  After Respondent published an online version of the OCGA, the Commission sued on behalf of the state for copyright infringement, arguing that the annotations were protected works of authorship.  The Eleventh Circuit ruled for Respondent.  On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed, under the “government edicts doctrine” first established in Wheaton v. Peters, 8 Pet. 591 (1834) and Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244 (1888).  The doctrine prohibits authorship protections for judicial works created in conjunction with official governmental duties regardless of whether the work “carries the force of law.”  In the present case, the Court held such prohibitions apply to legislative writings as well as judicial, as the works become “authentic exposition and interpretation of the law” which bind every citizen. (citing Banks, 128 U. S., at 253).  As both bodies hold the authority to make or interpret the law, the Court reasoned copyright protections cannot apply to any works created by these officials.  AFFIRMED

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