Edict of government
Edict of government is a technical term in United States copyright law that refers to laws (in a wide sense of that term), and determines that they cannot be protected by copyright. It is based on the principle of public policy that citizens must have unrestrained access to the laws that govern them. Similar provisions occur in most, but not all, systems of copyright law; the main exceptions are in those copyright laws which have developed from English law, under which the copyright in laws rests with the Crown or the government.
The concept of an "edict of government" is distinct from that of a "work of the United States government", although a given work may fall into both categories (e.g., an Act of Congress). The impossibility of enforcing copyright over edicts of government arises from common law, starting with the case of Wheaton v. Peters (1834), while the ineligibility of U.S. government works for copyright has its basis in statute law, starting with the Printing Act of 1895.
In the UK, the right of the government to prevent printing of the law was established by at least 1820, and formalized by the Copyright Act 1911.
Edicts of government, such as judicial opinions, administrative rulings, legislative enactments, public ordinances, and similar official legal documents are not copyrightable for reasons of public policy. This applies to such works whether they are Federal, State, or local as well as to those of foreign governments.
Basis in public policy
The idea that edicts of government cannot be copyrighted in the United States dates to the decision of the Supreme Court in Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. (Pet. 8) 591 (1834). That case concerned the question of copyright in the official reports of cases before the Supreme Court itself, and is best known for refusing the idea of a common law copyright in published works; however, the last sentence of the opinion of the court reads "It may be proper to remark that the court are unanimously of opinion, that no reporter has or can have any copyright in the written opinions delivered by this court; and that the judges thereof cannot confer on any reporter any such right."
This doctrine was developed in a number of cases through the nineteenth century, particularly with regards to the opinions of State courts. Several States attempted to sell the exclusive right to report court proceedings to fund the publication of law reports, but these attempts were struck down by the federal courts. One such case was Banks & Bros. v. West Publishing Co., 27 F. 50 (C.C.D. Minn. 1886), concerning the right to report opinions of the Supreme Court of Iowa in the face of an Iowa statute granting exclusive rights to the plaintiff. In finding in favour of the defendant, the circuit court opined:
[I]t is a maxim of universal application that every man is presumed to know the law, and it would seem inherent that freedom of access to the laws, or the official interpretation of those laws, should be co-extensive with the sweep of the maxim. Knowledge is the only just condition of obedience. The laws of Rome were written on tablets and posted, that all might read, and all were bound to obedience. The act of that emperor who caused his enactments to be written in small letters, on small tablets, and then posted the latter at such height that none could read the letters, and at the same time insisted upon the rule of obedience, outraging as it did the relations of governor and governed under his own system of government, has never been deemed consistent with or possible under ours.
The Supreme Court confirmed such opinions in Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244 (1888), concerning reports of the Supreme Court of Ohio, and in Callaghan v. Myers, 128 U.S. 617 (1888), concerning reports of the Supreme Court of Illinois. Similar cases have disbarred the pretended copyright of State constitutions and statutes: Davidson v. Wheelock, 27 F. 61 (C.C.D.Minn. 1866), concerning the constitution and statutes of Minnesota; Howell v. Miller, 91 F. 129 (6th Cir. 1898), concerning the statutes of Michigan; and more recently in State of Georgia v. The Harrison Company, 548 F. Supp. 110 (N.D.Ga. 1982), concerning the statutes of Georgia. In Building Officials & Code Adm. v. Code Technology, Inc., 628 F.2d 730 (1st Cir. 1980), the principal was applied to the Massachusetts building code.
such material as the laws and governmental rules and decisions must be freely available to the public and made known as widely as possible; hence there must be no restriction on the reproduction and dissemination of such documents.
Royal prerogative under English law
The position under English law is radically different from that developed by the United States courts. As documented by Chitty in his 1820 Treatise on the Law of the Prerogatives of the Crown, the monarch is considered to have a monopoly on the publication of laws:
As executive magistrate, […] the King has the right of promulgating to the people all acts of state and government. This gives the King the exclusive privilege of printing, at his own press, or at that of his grantees, all Acts of Parliament, proclamations, and orders of council.
The prerogative was placed on a statutory footing with the Copyright Act 1911, which instituted the system of Crown copyright for work "prepared or published by or under the direction or control of His Majesty or any Government department". As the 1911 Act was the basis for copyright law throughout the British Empire – not merely in the United Kingdom – it has influenced the laws of the many countries that resulted after decolonization.
- Section 182A of the Copyright Act 1968 provides that Crown copyright (including any prerogative right or privilege of the Crown in the nature of copyright) in certain "prescribed works" is not breached by making single copies, provided that these copies are not sold for profit (that is, for a price higher than the costs of copying). "Prescribed works" include federal and State laws and regulations and the judgements and opinions of federal and State courts.
- Since 1997, the Reproduction of Federal Law Order allows the reproduction of federal laws and the judgements of federal courts, noting that "it is of fundamental importance to a democratic society that its law be widely known and that its citizens have unimpeded access to that law". The Order requires due diligence to be exercised in ensuring the accuracy of the materials reproduced; the reproduction cannot be represented as an official version.
- New Zealand
- Since 2001, a wide range of edicts of government have been exempted from Crown copyright in New Zealand by section 27 of the Copyright Act 1994. As well as Acts of Parliament, regulations and court judgments, the section 27 exemptions include the proceedings of Parliament (Hansard) and the reports of Royal commissions and other inquiries.
- South Africa
- South Africa formerly followed British copyright law, but the Copyright Act, 1978 introduced a provision that places "official texts of a legislative, administrative or legal nature", and official translations of such texts, in the public domain.
- United Kingdom
- Acts (of the Westminster Parliament and of the devolved Parliaments and Assemblies) and Measures (of the General Synod of the Church of England and of the Welsh Assembly) are protected by Crown copyright under section 164 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA); secondary legislation and court judgements are also protected by the general regime of Crown copyright (s. 163, CDPA). The policy of the UK government in licencing reproductions is described in the 1999 white paper "Future Management of Crown Copyright", which justifies the continued existence of Crown copyright "to prevent misuse and to preserve the integrity of Crown material". Primary and secondary legislation may be freely reproduced for non-commercial use: this only applies to the original versions of legislation, not to the consolidated versions published as Statutes in Force and on the UK Statute Law Database. Commercial republishers are required to "add value" to the material, for example by collecting related legislation in a single volume. There is no general licence for republishing court judgements: the white paper is silent on the specific reasons for this omission, although it notes that there are "certain categories of Crown copyright protected material" that contain information of "a personal or confidential nature".
- Berger, Caruthers (1959), Copyright in Government Works, U.S. Copyright Office Study No. 33.
- "206.01 Edicts of government", Compendium of Office Practices II, U.S. Copyright Office, 1984.
- Chitty, Joseph (1820), A Treatise on the Law of the Prerogatives of the Crown; and the Relative Duties and Rights of the Subject, London, p. 239.
- 1 & 2 Geo. 5 c. 46, s. 18.
- Patridge, R. C. Barrington (2008), The History of the Legal Deposit of Books, Read Books, pp. 154–55, ISBN 978-1-4437-2545-3.
- Burrell, Robert; Coleman, Alison (2005), Copyright exceptions: the digital impact, Cambridge University Press, p. 249, ISBN 978-0-521-84726-1.
- Act No. 63 of 1968, as amended, s. 182A.
- Reproduction of Federal Law Order (SI/97-5).
- Public Act 1994 No 143, s. 27. Section 27(1) came into force on 1 April 2001 through the Copyright Act Commencement Order 2000 (SR 2000/245).
- Copyright Act, No. 98 of 1978, s. 12(8)(a).
- 1988 c. 48, ss. 163, 164.
- Paragraphs 5.1 and 7.8, Future Management of Crown Copyright, Cm. 4300, March 1999.
- Paragraphs 6.1 and 6.2, Future Management of Crown Copyright, Cm. 4300, March 1999.