ELI Joins Collaborative Amici Brief About Access to Public Laws by the Public

The EveryLibrary Institute is proud to join a collaborative amici brief filed by Library Futures alongside the Authors Alliance and Public Knowledge in "American Society for Testing and Materials, et al. v. Public.Resource.Org", a case currently pending in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Libraries exist in part to provide access to information for the public. This function is even more critical for patrons who need to understand the laws, regulations, and rules by which we are governed. This case highlights the critical role of the library in helping people access the law.

The issue at hand with this case is whether or not the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and its co-plaintiffs can limit access to public laws by the public through the restrictions allowed to a publisher or IP holder through the exercise of copyright law. Fundamentally, is it within the right of ATSM to claim ownership of public laws through the publishing process? As we state in the brief, "With the backing of the incredibly strong bundle of exclusive rights that copyright law provides, ASTM is able to impose such restrictions on users with the knowledge that those users have no choice but to agree [to a privacy policy and terms of service], given that they have no alternative pathways through Public Resource, or through libraries. ASTM’s exercise of these rights and its version of free access stands in stark contrast to the protected and careful means through which libraries provide access to researchers and other users of legal information."

Public.Resource.org (PRO) has been partnering with libraries for decades on our shared interest in providing free and unfettered access to the law. By filing this amicus in support of PRO, our library and public sector organization are attempting to bolster and support both organizations' missions. "While records such as court documents and other non-binding legal materials must be freely publishable and accessible without threat of liability," as we state in the brief, "Much more so is the need for the public to access legal publications that are made official by their incorporation by reference into law. For libraries, for example, copyright over these official publications raises the prospect of liability for everything from everyday uses such as providing individual copies for building inspectors, fire chiefs, and lawyers, to emerging uses such as digital access through online library portals that allow libraries to bring the text of the law to many more users who are homebound, disabled, or without resources to travel to a physical library."

The public shouldn't have to continually pay for access or agree to restrictive licensing schemes to access the law once it has been incorporated into state, city, municipality, or town legislation. Were ASTM to prevail, libraries would be unable to provide any of these types of privacy protections for researchers. Granting copyright protection over these legal materials would harm librarians and by extension, researchers and the public. Here at the EveryLibrary Institute, we believe that the law should be free to access.

We thank Library Futures, Authors Alliance, and Public Knowledge for their collaborative work on this brief, and the community members who provided their feedback and support.

You can read the full brief here.