Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

City Laws Only Available Via $200 License

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the calling-doctor-malamud dept.

Government 411

MrLint writes "The City of Schenectady has decided that their laws are copyrighted, and that you cannot know them without paying for an 'exclusive license' for $200. This is not a first — Oregon has claimed publishing of laws online is a copyright violation." This case is nuanced. The city has contracted with a private company to convert and encode its laws so they can be made available on the Web for free. While the company works on this project, it considers the electronic versions of the laws its property and offers a CD version, bundled with its software, for $200. The man who requested a copy of the laws plans to appeal.

cancel ×

411 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

New form of taxes! (5, Insightful)

ircmaxell (1117387) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086112)

I wonder how the 'ignorance of the law is no excuse' standpoint would be upheld given that you may not be economically able to know the laws...

But (3, Funny)

igny (716218) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086124)

Think of the lawyers!

Re:New form of taxes! (2, Interesting)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086132)

Exactly the point I was going to make. Besides, I think the value of properties in that town is a trade secret, but we'll declare the property to be worth $100. What percentage annual property tax were they charging again?

Re:New form of taxes! (1, Funny)

ShatteredArm (1123533) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086284)

This is Schenectady we're talking about. I should think $100 is a drastic overestimate.

Re:New form of taxes! (5, Interesting)

buttersnout (832768) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086252)

In my experience the "ignorance of the law is no excuse" standpoint holds up whether or not you have a good excuse for your ignorance. The police once copied down my address incorrectly on a ticket (they ignored my correct address on the copy of the ticket I mailed in) causing a summons to court, a notice of default judgement against me, a notice that my ticket was unpaid and a notice that my license had been suspended to be sent to the wrong address. I was later charged with driving with a suspended license after an accident a few months later. I discovered what had happened after some digging at the bureau of public records. I explained what had happened to the judge and he told me the ignorance of the law is ones own fault period. The fact that the state had tried to contact me was sufficient on their part. It is always your responsibility to become informed of the law regardless of any difficulties you have.

Re:New form of taxes! (3, Funny)

GargamelSpaceman (992546) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086310)

This is unfair, but necessary for the proper function of the wheels of justice. It's also unfair when an innocent person is convicted and sentenced to jail, but that is also necessary for the proper functioning of the wheels of justice. Justice demands that it's wheels are regularly lubricated with innocent blood. If you don't want bad-guys running rampant, then you have to throw some virgins into the mangler. It's the price of justice.

Re:New form of taxes! (4, Insightful)

Minozake (1227554) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086398)

I'd rather have no justice.

Re:New form of taxes! (2, Interesting)

Zantac69 (1331461) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086526)

Reminds me of a quote from The Way of the Gun ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0202677/ [imdb.com] )

Karma is justice without the satisfaction, and I dont believe in justice

Re:New form of taxes! (3, Insightful)

Conzar (1603461) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086542)

The wheels of justice have fallen off. There is no justice especially when the laws are corrupt. It is impossible for everyone to know all of the laws; therefore, the system is broken. Why is it in the USA we have the most people in Prison in the entire world? Instead of passing more laws, our politicians should actively seek real solutions that end poverty, crime, and war; however, this does not make good business. So they ignore these social problems and continue down the path of fascism.

Re:New form of taxes! (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086654)

Sorry, bucko, but that's exactly how the American Justice System is NOT supposed to work. Sure, the innocent still get convicted wrongly, but it's not a necessary function of the system. It's a glitch in the system, one that we strive to eliminate. And before you turn this into a false dilemma, we also want to eliminate the converse glitch: guilty people walking on technicalities. It's a balancing act with no clear proportions, though we (should) tend slightly toward preserving the innocent.

Welcome to government (2, Insightful)

Mathinker (909784) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086420)

Welcome to government, where you don't have to be responsible for your own mistakes, because you make the rules.

The judge sounds like an idiot, and probably is. Does he realize what kind of funding the state's DMV would need if every state resident took him seriously, and contacted the DMV four or more times a year to make sure his/her license hasn't been suspended and to check that they don't have any outstanding tickets? And how much economic damage that might cause the state because of lost work?

Re:Welcome to government (2, Interesting)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086630)

and contacted the DMV four or more times a year

That, sir, sounds like an outstanding opportunity for a community campaign. I'd make it four or five times a week though... per person.

Re:New form of taxes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086428)

That is not ignorance of the law - it is ignorance of certain facts, i.e. that your license had been suspended.

Re:New form of taxes! (2, Insightful)

bleh-of-the-huns (17740) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086462)

You could have easily appealed that. There is a huge difference between ignorance of the law, and being psychic and knowing they had tried to notify you.

When you sent the ticket in, with your correct address, you met your obligations with regards to that ticket. It is up to the courts and police to notify you at the correct address. No reasonable judge or court system could expect an individual who never received notification, because the courts sent the information to the incorrect address to realize they had a suspended license (or for any other legal matter).

I was also charged with driving on a suspended license in VA, and I made a deal with the prosecutor prior to ever seeing the judge, and I also had no idea that my license was suspended. The difference is, they did notify me at the correct address, however at some point VA stopped using certified mail that require an signature of receipt when sending out suspension notices, and started using normal mail, I just had not gotten around to opening it.

Re:New form of taxes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086528)

Question: Did you hire a lawyer?

If not, that was your problem. A lawyer could have taken that same situation and made it stick.

At least on appeal anyway.

Re:New form of taxes! (1)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086576)

You could have tried the "I am not the John Doe that the ticket was given to. My name is John Doe, but I have never lived at 121 Main Street." Probably would have been just as effective, but since you were screwed either way.......

Re:New form of taxes! (5, Interesting)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086578)

I discovered what had happened after some digging at the bureau of public records. I explained what had happened to the judge and he told me the ignorance of the law is ones own fault period.

Judge was an idiot. Ignorance of the _law_ is no excuse. Ignorance of specific FACTS often is; ignorance of the law in your case would be if you knew your license was suspended but you didn't know that driving with a suspended license was illegal.

In this case, the courts will (as usual) rule for the government. On two grounds
1) You can always head down to the state capital and examine the laws in their law library, on paper.
2) States have long been incorporating copyrighted codes into their laws by reference, and the courts have been perfectly happy to let them do it. Want to add an electrical outlet? That'll be $$$$ for the NEC, please.

The more interesting case will be if some enterprising person buys the $200 CD, strips the laws themselves out of it (minus any formatting or commentary by the publishing company), and posts them or starts selling his own CD.

Re:New form of taxes! (3, Informative)

DustyShadow (691635) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086648)

In my experience the "ignorance of the law is no excuse" standpoint holds up whether or not you have a good excuse for your ignorance. The police once copied down my address incorrectly on a ticket (they ignored my correct address on the copy of the ticket I mailed in) causing a summons to court, a notice of default judgement against me, a notice that my ticket was unpaid and a notice that my license had been suspended to be sent to the wrong address. I was later charged with driving with a suspended license after an accident a few months later. I discovered what had happened after some digging at the bureau of public records. I explained what had happened to the judge and he told me the ignorance of the law is ones own fault period. The fact that the state had tried to contact me was sufficient on their part. It is always your responsibility to become informed of the law regardless of any difficulties you have.

That judge is an idiot. You weren't ignorant of the laws. You were ignorant of the facts. Sorry that happened.

Re:New form of taxes! (4, Interesting)

Kartoffel (30238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086304)

The company that's typing up these laws got sucked into a bad deal. They probably signed a contract believing they would hold a copyright over the laws. Bullshit. At most, that company has a copyright over the CD version that they're creating.

The laws themselves are public domain, as laws must be. To claim anything else renders the City of Schenectady illegitimate. Seriously--you can't make asinine claims like that and expect to remain a legitimate form of government. If I were working for the State or a neighboring local government, I'd give Schenectady a few weeks to come to their senses and then pull the plug. No more funding, no more cooperation, no nothing. Treat them like a rogue state. It's harsh but necessary. No one should have to stand for government gone haywire.

Re:New form of taxes! (3, Informative)

Unequivocal (155957) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086466)

True, but they can copyright the format and indexes to the content. WestLaw has been doing this for years with the Federal Case law and making a killing. Recently open indexes of Federal Case law have been taken more seriously and many judges accept both WestLaw index citation and the open format. But for a while WestLaw effectively owned the Federal Case statutes b/c they copyrighted their index of them, and you could only file in Federal court by using that index scheme.

So there are ways to use copyright to lock down what should be public record, and this company may be using such a strategy to charge $200 for their version of the content.

Simple: outlaw poor people. (1)

Civil_Disobedient (261825) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086352)

Poverty now becomes the ultimate trump card! This should change prison demographics a little.

Re:New form of taxes! (1)

Rary (566291) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086396)

Information is not copyrightable. A particular presentation of information is copyrightable.

They are not saying you can't learn the law for free. They are saying you can't have this particular presentation of the law for free.

Also, according to TFA, this is only a temporary situation while they work on getting the full law posted online for free. They're just trying to recover some of the $20,000 it's costing them to do this.

Re:New form of taxes! (1)

Grimbleton (1034446) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086446)

That doesn't make charging to know the law legitimate.

Re:New form of taxes! (5, Informative)

Rary (566291) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086518)

That doesn't make charging to know the law legitimate.

The point is that they're not charging to know the law. According to TFA, you can read the law "at the Schenectady Public Library, Schenectady County Supreme Court Library, the Schenectady County Community College Library and several other locations". And as of next year you'll be able to read and search the law online for free. In the meantime, if you want a copy to take home, you have to pay for it.

Re:New form of taxes! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086486)

But with law the presentation is the same as the information. You can paraphrase law to make it more understandable, but what's actually written down on the original documents is what's important and it's what wins if there's any conflicts with other interpretations.

Re:New form of taxes! (1)

Rary (566291) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086560)

But with law the presentation is the same as the information. You can paraphrase law to make it more understandable, but what's actually written down on the original documents is what's important and it's what wins if there's any conflicts with other interpretations.

No. The "presentation" in this case is the specific electronic encoding of the wording of the law, not the wording of the law itself. The law is freely available in multiple other formats, and could even be exported to a different electronic format (MS Word, for example) and given away for free.

Re:New form of taxes! (2, Informative)

moranar (632206) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086464)

What part of '[the laws will] be made available on the Web for free" didn't you understand?

I assume the normal means of studying the laws of Schenectady are still available.

Re:New form of taxes! (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086564)

I wonder how the 'ignorance of the law is no excuse' standpoint would be upheld given that you may not be economically able to know the laws...

You could of course go to city hall or the public library.

Sit down and read a book.

There was a world of text before the computer, after all.

WE THE PEOPLE..... (3, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086114)

..no longer own our government. Time for that city's citizens to fire all the politicians (hopefully peacefully not by force), and rebuild the government from scratch

Re:WE THE PEOPLE..... (2, Insightful)

NevarMore (248971) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086260)

Lets hope for just a little force. Scare the rest of them back in line.

Re:WE THE PEOPLE..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086268)

I'm not a New York lawyer, but I'd be surprised if the New York State Freedom of Information Law didn't allow a requester to obtain a copy of the laws without paying the $200 (there might be some very nominal fee). This is going to be very true if the city itself has an electronic copy of the laws themselves.

Re:WE THE PEOPLE..... (1)

Grimbleton (1034446) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086458)

It's a per-page charge

Re:WE THE PEOPLE..... (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086302)

I'm waiting until the Declaration of Independence is banned as 'propaganda'.

That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

Re:WE THE PEOPLE..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086448)

I'm waiting until the Declaration of Independence is banned as 'propaganda'.

Banned from what? It is not a legally binding document and is taught in schools as propaganda (well, in the schools where teaching still takes place at least).

Re:WE THE PEOPLE..... (2, Insightful)

bitslinger_42 (598584) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086454)

Sure, but what do we replace it with? We know that monarchy-type governments lead to tyranny, and the U.S. of A. is an existence proof of what happens when you elect people who determine the rules under which they operate, not to mention vote on their own salaries. What else is there?

Re:WE THE PEOPLE..... (1)

moranar (632206) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086444)

The parent should be modded -1 Stupid.

As they say: "Get a brain, morans!"

Re:WE THE PEOPLE..... (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086520)

..no longer own our government. Time for that city's citizens to fire all the politicians (hopefully peacefully not by force), and rebuild the government from scratch

Yes, how DARE the city make their laws available for free on the internet?

What exactly is nuanced? (5, Insightful)

liquiddark (719647) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086122)

Ignorance of law is not a defense in a court of law, yet people are subject to laws they cannot read in detail. Doesn't seem very nuanced. It seems a very straightforward violation of basic principles of civics.

Re:What exactly is nuanced? (1)

Peter La Casse (3992) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086270)

"Ignorance of the law is no defense" made sense when the law closely resembled the common set of morals and ethics shared by 99% of society. Clearly that is no longer the case, and I wonder how long it will be before, at least in some cases, ignorance of a law that reasonably couldn't have been known or understood ahead of time does become a valid defense.

Re:What exactly is nuanced? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086498)

"Ignorance of the law is no defense" made sense when the law closely resembled the common set of morals and ethics shared by 99% of society. Clearly that is no longer the case, and I wonder how long it will be before, at least in some cases, ignorance of a law that reasonably couldn't have been known or understood ahead of time does become a valid defense.

Agreed, but there are a few problems with what you're saying.

(1) The organized people with guns don't care whether or not you think ignorance a valid defense.

(2) The rest of us can't be bothered o fix (1). (And by "fix", I don't mean armed revolution. I mean vote into office legislators and executives who will insist on a civicly virtuous set of laws and lawmaking processes.)

Re:What exactly is nuanced? (1)

Unequivocal (155957) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086546)

Ignorance of the law is an excuse if you can show you made an effort to abide by the rules - like hiring a professional in the field of law to make the right decision. At least that's how it works in civil areas, such as tax/finance law. As far as my experience goes, in criminal law "ignorance of the law is no excuse" prosecution is applied in the morally clear areas you describe, where a reasonable person would know the law, but you claim you didn't, so you still get prosecuted. For complex arcana, my experience is that the law is much more nuanced.

Re:What exactly is nuanced? (1)

Cyner (267154) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086380)

Agreed; a public law should be made available to the public without reservation or hinderance. If they want to charge for a CD version of the laws that's fine, as long as there's a free copy somewhere. Perhaps they could give CDs to the local libraries, problem solved.

Re:What exactly is nuanced? (1)

Rary (566291) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086414)

Ignorance of law is not a defense in a court of law, yet people are subject to laws they cannot read in detail. Doesn't seem very nuanced. It seems a very straightforward violation of basic principles of civics.

They can read it in detail in paper form. They just can't have it on CD for free, and soon they'll have searchable online access for free.

Charging $200 for the CD isn't ideal, but nobody is hiding the laws from people.

Re:What exactly is nuanced? (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086416)

Ignorance of law is not a defense in a court of law, yet people are subject to laws they cannot read in detail. Doesn't seem very nuanced. It seems a very straightforward violation of basic principles of civics.

Unfortunately, fundamental injustices in the legal system are not seen by courts as valid justification for avoiding punishment.

I think copyrighted laws are unjust, in similar measure, to:

  • Legal proceedings that are so expensive that merely defending oneself can cause bankruptcy, even when innocent.
  • Being bound by laws that even the lawmakers didn't read, or that were bought with bribes / campaign contributions.

Re:What exactly is nuanced? (1)

moranar (632206) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086568)

No, it seems you don't think that documents can be available if not on the Internet. Hint: how do you think mankind has published laws so far? And how could you get a copy of your local code of law until now? And what do you think is stopping you from doing so? And what part of 'will be available for free after the work is done' did you not understand?

If you want, right now, the package of laws as they offer it, you pay that price. How is that different from the bookseller offering the code as a book and charging for it?

Furthermore, from the article:

But Eiss also indicated he might find it sufficient to review a paper copy of the code, as needed, at a library.

White said copies of the code, with updates early this year, are on file at the Schenectady Public Library, Schenectady County Supreme Court Library, the Schenectady County Community College Library and several other locations.

Worse than poll tax (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086130)

So "due diligence" in researching whether or not you might violate a law now requires you to pay a fee. How totalitarian.

So now you can plea ignorance of the law? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086138)

Basically if the laws aren't available for reading because they're copyrighted, I wonder how they can actually even prosecute anyone for anything?
Has this been tried yet in court?

Also it should be a warning to the electorate, government is supposed to serve the people, not extort money from them.

Not the first time this has come up (1)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086140)

First off, since these are state and local laws, the objection that "government works are in the public domain" doesn't apply, as that objection is only valid for federal works.

However, there are several cases that deal with the question of whether private codes (e.g. building codes, safety codes, etc.) that a local government pays for can remain copyrighted once they are enacted into law. Veeck v. Southern Bldg Code, Building Officials & Code Administrators Int'l v. Code Technology, Inc. There are others, but in both those, the idea was that once the private code is enacted into law, it would enter the public domain.

This case seems different though... if all this company has done is taken the city's law and made them an electronic version, surely they don't own the copyright to the text of the laws themselves (unless some idiot wrote the software contract).

Re:Not the first time this has come up (2, Insightful)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086332)

First off, since these are state and local laws, the objection that "government works are in the public domain" doesn't apply, as that objection is only valid for federal works.

I don't know where people get the idea that "the government" equals only the Federal government. Your state and city have governments, too.

I hear it all the time in the bar I go to when people bitch about "the government", blaming Obama and Durbin etc for stupid state laws and city ordinances that the feds don't have anything to do with. The smoking ban comes to mind, boy that one pissed off the bar owners here!

You have more than one government. Where I live I have a Federal governmant, a state govenment, a county government, and a city government. Luckily here the county laws usually don't apply in the city. And there's more than one city in the city and there are no markers showing where Springfield ends and Grandview or Jerome begins.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse... (1)

b4dc0d3r (1268512) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086148)

Ignorance of the law is no excuse... So how's that explanation going to work if you have to buy the laws? I'm in jail because I couldn't afford to buy the $200 rule book.

Sounds like pauper's prison to me.

Re:Ignorance of the law is no excuse... (1)

frdmfghtr (603968) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086162)

Buying laws...seems like that practice has been going on for years...

Re:Ignorance of the law is no excuse... (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086256)

Sounds like pauper's prison to me.

The wealthy need to harvest organs from somewhere. It's all legal, of course, just check the applicable laws. Won't somebody please think of the rich and privileged?

A simple solution (4, Insightful)

dyfet (154716) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086160)

Any law which does not offer universal access to those claimed to be subject to it should not have universal jurisdiction over said population. A very simple quid pro quo. If you have to pay to know the law, it only can be applied to those who paid :).

Re:A simple solution (2, Insightful)

arkenian (1560563) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086566)

Not that I approve of this, at all. But . . . I'm willing to bet that a full copy of the town's laws and regulations can be found, and read, for free, at the town library.

Re:A simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086572)

Addendum: Any law which can not be easily understood by a literate adult of average intelligence is now unconstitutional.

A simple solution (0)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086166)

Vote ALL city bureaucrats out at the earliest chance. I am willing to be part of this effort. Trust me, once they feel threatened with job losses in this economy, they will "style up."

Re:A simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086264)

  $35 charge per vote. 10% off if you vote in the hours between 10am and 3pm
  $20 surcharge for absentee ballots.

Re:A simple solution (2, Funny)

magarity (164372) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086468)

$35 charge per vote
 
Are you from Chicago?
 
Oh, wait, you mean the voters have to pay the politicians?

Re:A simple solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086342)

You don't vote on the bureaucrats, you vote for mayor, city council, aldermen and the like.
In theory they control the bureaucrats, in practice the the elected pick a city manager who controls the bureaucrats.
In larger cities there is probably even more levels of indirection between elected official and actual bureaucrats.

There is no direct way for a citizen to remove a malicious abusive bureaucrat from office.

Are the laws available in print form? (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086184)

Does this mean nobody is able to read the laws in any form unless they pay $200, or is it just delivery in electronic format that incurs this extra charge?

Re:Are the laws available in print form? (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086558)

If you RTFA, you will see that obtaining a paper copy costs 25 per page; the city's charter and administrative code comprise many hundreds of pages, and thus the copying fee becomes expensive too.

Re:Are the laws available in print form? (1)

eggoeater (704775) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086618)

Mod parent up. This was my first thought too.
I still think if a law is in a digital format you should be able to get a copy for free, esp if you bring in your own media. I can see them charging you $20 for a DVD-R disc and the time/resources it takes to burn it, but claims of copyright and having to use proprietary software to read the law is rediculous.

My builder doesn't own my house (2, Insightful)

Teese (89081) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086196)

Aren't works for hire generally owned by whoever is paying... City pays contractor for work, city owns the work, not the contractor.

Re:My builder doesn't own my house (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086394)

He may not own your house, but he does own the copyright on it....

Outrageous (4, Interesting)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086214)

As I was reading TFA there was another thing I saw that outraiged me besides the ludicrous copyrighting of laws.

Eiss dropped by City Hall a couple of weeks ago and asked for a copy of the city code, a two-part document that includes the City Charter and the administrative code, a full set of local ordinances governing everything from building inspections to waste disposal.

Because it's voluminous -- the paper version fills two thick, black, 3-ring binders, says Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden -- Eiss asked for it in electronic format, probably a disk.

Why does a city's laws and codes have to be two fat binders? Perhaps I'm making a wrong assumption (or just have my head up my ass; I'm on my first cup of coffee this morning), but a thick binder where I work is about four inches thick.

Why so many codes and regulations? And not only does one have to obey these laws, but there are the state and Federal laws you have to abide by as well.

How the hell is anyone supposed to avoid being a criminal when there are books and books of laws one has to obey?

I'd like to see a new federal law that says all laws, codes, and ordinances expire after a period of ten years, after which time lawmakers can re-enact those laws if they deem necessary. We have WAY too many laws.

And I'd like to see the next copyright revision state plainly and emphatically that no government can copyright anything whatever.

Someone please violate this city's bogus copyright and get the laws on the internet. And publically shame the city and its leaders for their insanity. I know if I lived in Schenectady I'd be voting against the incumbants (of course, I usually do here anyway).

Re:Outrageous (1)

geordie_loz (624942) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086322)

The trouble with that law is that it would likely only apply to laws created after itself, and logically it'd be the first law to expire after 10 years. At it's first review it would have had no effect, and thus be unneeded, so removed. Thus never apply to any other law. So it'd be pretty pointless.

Re:Outrageous (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086406)

How the hell is anyone supposed to avoid being a criminal when there are books and books of laws one has to obey?

"Did you really think that we want those laws to be observed?" said Dr. Ferris. "We want them broken. You'd better get it straight that it's not a bunch of boy scouts you're up against-then you'll know that this is not the age for beautiful gestures. We're after power and we mean it. You fellows were pikers, but we know the real trick, and you'd better get wise to it. There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What's there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted - and you create a nation of law-breakers - and then you cash in on guilt. Now that's the system, Mr. Rearden, that's the game, and once you understand it, you'll be much easier to deal with."

- one of the bad guys from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged

Re:Outrageous (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086426)

I don't doubt that there are a fair few superfluous laws on the books(in that city, and generally), and that unnecessary complexity is a major vice; but I suspect that most of the actual thickness is contributed by things like building codes.

Even in a hypothetical libertarian utopia where the state handles nothing but defense and the bare outlines of criminal law, you are going to end up with some very lengthy laws, either directly or by reference. For instance, "due process" is pithy; but what it actually means, once you get to the level of court procedure, access to lawyers, details of how one can/cannot be detained and under what circumstances, etc, etc. would be hard to encapsulate in under book length. You could keep the law code itself short by simply refusing to go into detail and handwaving, or by referring to outside codes of practice; but that doesn't really help. If you do the first, you don't really have a rule of law at all. If you do the second, you simply have a very long code of laws that is split up among numerous documents, with your actual "law code" serving as little more than an index.

Once you get into the realm of things like building codes, which are necessarily pretty technical, this problem just becomes greater.

This is not to say that complexity is good(it isn't, one should always strive for Einstein's "simple as possible; but no simpler"); but it does mean that you have to be careful to distinguish between unnecessary and invidious complexity, and necessary complexity. It's like the use of technical jargon. People complain, often rightly, that it is used to confuse and intimidate laymen and keep them from questioning experts; but there are plenty of things that are simply complex and cannot be usefully simplified without distortion.

Re:Outrageous (1)

Rary (566291) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086456)

Someone please violate this city's bogus copyright and get the laws on the internet.

That's exactly what they're currently working on doing. And it's not the laws that are copyrighted, it's one particular electronic presentation of those laws. The laws are still available for free at the public library, among other places.

Stop reading TFA (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086516)

As I was reading TFA there was another thing I saw that outraiged me besides the ludicrous copyrighting of laws.

Problem solved!

Lots of laws (2, Insightful)

sjbe (173966) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086550)

Why so many codes and regulations?

The short answer is that the society we live in is very complicated. The basic principles are pretty simple but hammering out the details requires a lot of lawmaking. These laws cover the corner cases of how we are to interact with each other. Turns out the best (and probably only) way to do that anyone has come up with is to have a lot of laws. This is better than the alternative which is basically monarchy. Better to have the rules spelled out (even if complicated) than to depend on the capricious whims of rules. (yes, yes, I know it's hard to tell the difference sometimes...)

Bear in mind too that those laws are just the regulations, codes, ordinances etc passed by legislative bodies. There is another set of relevant law found in case law [wikipedia.org] .

How the hell is anyone supposed to avoid being a criminal when there are books and books of laws one has to obey?

You aren't. A government that cannot accuse you of breaking any laws cannot control you.

Re:Outrageous (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086604)

How the hell is anyone supposed to avoid being a criminal when there are books and books of laws one has to obey?

Most of those laws don't apply to you, or any one person. If you're a bar owner you're expected to know the section of the laws dealing with alcohol. If you're a developer you're expected to know about zoning. If you're a contractor you're expected to know about required permits. Each of those sections isn't that difficult to learn.

Someone please violate this city's bogus copyright and get the laws on the internet. And publically shame the city and its leaders for their insanity. I know if I lived in Schenectady I'd be voting against the incumbants (of course, I usually do here anyway).

You don't even have to go to the link to understand what's going on, the story submission says quite clearly that the city isn't asserting copyright, it's a private company that, in the process of putting the laws online for free access, is selling CD copies of their work in process.

Private Laws Cannot be Enforced Publicly (1)

Kartoffel (30238) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086218)

Sounds like this particular set of laws now only applies to people who have purchased them for $200.

How is that the case? (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086228)

If I publish a book in CD form, I don't create a new, copyrightable work. I might have the copyright on the software reader, but the work itself belongs to the original author (presumably the city council, and normally public domain), not the transcriber. They might require you purchase their $200 reader, and give you the law text for free. They could also charge you a "convenience fee" for delivering the content in a mroe useful form, provided they are licensed to do so (which would be the case for a public domain work). It sounds like they're claiming copyright on the law, which is generally frowned upon as is disallowing citizens to read the law without going though a third party.

Don't law offices generally pay for annual versions of the local law, all neatly printed and bound so that the conference room bookshelves look nice?

Do people on a jury have to pay $200 as well? (3, Insightful)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086238)

Do people on a jury have to pay $200 as well? As it can be real hard to be on a jury and not know the law.

Re:Do people on a jury have to pay $200 as well? (2, Insightful)

Alan426 (962302) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086480)

Juries are triers of fact, not of law. Jurors are not supposed to interpret the law as they see fit -- they follow the instructions given them by the judge. This is why lawyers make lousy jurors. IANAL but I play one on TV

Re:Do people on a jury have to pay $200 as well? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086582)

That's how the system tries to operate, but juries were triers of law in this country not too long ago. As far as I'm concerned they still are. Judge instructions are not decrees handed down by a god.

Re:Do people on a jury have to pay $200 as well? (1)

TimHunter (174406) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086562)

Nobody expects jurors to know the law. Before the jury starts deliberating, the judge explains the law and how the jury is supposed to assess the evidence and testimony according to the law. This is called "instructing the jury." Typically the judge and the lawyers for each side work out the exact wording of the instruction so that it's fair to both sides. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jury_instructions [wikipedia.org]

Re:Do people on a jury have to pay $200 as well? (1)

parliboy (233658) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086570)

A jury's job has nothing to do with knowing the law, nullification advocacy aside. Juries decide facts based on the testimony, evidence, and judge's instructions based on the law.

Re:Do people on a jury have to pay $200 as well? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30086598)

Juries are supposed to determine the facts of the case, not the law. (Cue argument on jury nullification [wikipedia.org] .)

Re:Do people on a jury have to pay $200 as well? (2, Informative)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086600)

Do people on a jury have to pay $200 as well? As it can be real hard to be on a jury and not know the law.

I've been selected for Jury duty, and in the written material it said that the Judge would tell us what the law is, and that was the law, not what we knew. It's because the Judge is supposed to interpret the law. The jury is only supposed to determine the facts. i.e. The jury determines that Bob killed Joe. It's up the the judge to say it's illegal for Bob to kill Joe and what the parameters of punishment might be. In some states the Judge then determines the sentence, in others, the jury picks a sentence consistent with what the Judge has determined. Ask a lawyer for clarification in your state.

Summary (4, Insightful)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086292)

TFA reports that the code is available in multiple public locations. The citizen can make copies of the ordinances from those sources.

That the city code is a twisted mess is no big surprise. A lot of municipalities have that problem.

The assertion of copyright is stupid, just stupid. The morons will soon realize that they have to retreat from that lunatic undemocratic position or they will be sued under New York's FOIA.

Re:Summary (1)

Civil_Disobedient (261825) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086404)

The citizen can make copies of the ordinances from those sources.

Yeah sure. At ten cents a page.

Also seen previously [slashdot.org] , a guy in California scanned thousands of pages of law and put them online for free after CA tried to copyright their laws. The story was from '08, so I'm not sure what the resolution was (or if there's even been one).

Best quality, Best reputation , Best services (-1, Troll)

coolforsale91 (1677948) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086336)

If you want to have a warm winter,you have to know Ugg boots.Ugg boots are “must have ” nike air max jordan ,shoes, caoch,gucci,lv,dg, ed hardy handbags in the winter.Now here is an onlinestore , discount 30%-50% off,free shipping, you may take a look, you may find the UGGS you want here.http://www.coolforsale.com thanks...

to continue reading this article (1)

archangel9 (1499897) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086344)

you will need to come by my office. I printed this page of comments and put it on a CD for $200. You can also purchase the "audiobook" version, where I hire an old 4-pack/day biker to read the article and comments into a $12 USB microphone, doing voice interpretations where necessary depending on comment score. That downloadable copy is $300, because it comes with a 15-second RIAA warning.

Schenectady is dying... (2, Interesting)

rotide (1015173) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086350)

Or should I say is pretty much dead.

Old resident here (I lived in Rotterdam, a town in Schenectady).

Schenectady was a booming place many years ago (~30) due to ALCO (American Locomotive) and GE (General Electric) being major companies that not only paid a lot in taxes but also brought other businesses to the area.

Downtown Schenectady, while small, was always alive with shops, stores, etc. Heck, my favorite as a child was a small two story hardware store that had one of those old school ceiling mounted "trolly" systems for moving orders/payments around the building. It was fun as a child to watch it zoom around.

Not anymore however. Schenectady decided it would be a great idea to raise taxes and grab more cash. GE and I'm assuming ALCO (can't remember when they pulled out) both decided taxes were too high and they pulled most of their operations out of Schenectady. This has pretty much killed the local economy as all the other small businesses that relied on the employee (residents and commuters) patronage have closed up shop. Schenectady shot itself in the foot really bad.

The article seems to state this is a temporary situation as they are paying $20k to get this on the web for everyone (assuming for free). But at first glance it looked like a misguided cash grab. Maybe it is, I'm not sure. Will be interesting to see how quickly they get a free version out there, if the web version does indeed end up being free. If not, *sigh*, Schenectady will be doing something stupid, again, to make a buck.

Re:Schenectady is dying... (1)

mdm-adph (1030332) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086412)

Makes sense. I drive through Schenectady on the way to Vermont every now and then to visit relatives -- all I remember is that everything looks like a dump.

Democracy working for the rich? (1)

pnblake (1677170) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086366)

I couldn't think of a better example of the government excluding the poor. People, of all financial backgrounds, deserve to have access to the laws of the land.

No need to overreact (2, Interesting)

7-Vodka (195504) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086400)

This isn't a big conspiracy. This is city government. If you've ever been to a small city governmental meeting you know that the proportion of complete idiots pontificating over each other is quite high.
In this case the majority of people in the room when this was decided were that kind of people.

Give it a little bit and their asses are gonna be toast in court and they're going to realize that they can't rule over the city folk like dictators. Unfortunately they will never realize the real magnitude of their stupidity.

Re:No need to overreact (1)

pnblake (1677170) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086594)

You'd think that the people who are in charge would atleast have the knowledge of a high school student passing a Civics course.

To forestall the anti-government ranters . . . (5, Informative)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086474)

Here's what the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has said about Schenectady's brain-dead legal position:

"For these reasons, we reject SBCCI's deconstruction of Banks into merely utilitarian and factual issues. Instead, we read Banks, Wheaton, and related cases consistently to enunciate the principle that "the law," whether it has its source in judicial opinions or statutes, ordinances or regulations, is not subject to federal copyright law."

Veeck v. Southern Bldg. Code Congress Intern., Inc.
293 F.3d 791
C.A.5 (Tex.),2002

hey (1)

nomadic (141991) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086478)

This case is nuanced.

Hey, whoah, slow down there chief. Remember what website you're posting on, we don't want to hear that.

Recurring revenue (1)

Alain Williams (2972) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086482)

As a good, law abiding citizen you need to keep abreast of any new laws that may affect you. So, presumably, you will be spending $200 every year just be sure that you ''don't do wrong''.

What a way to squeeze money from a few people and make criminals of the rest of us.

A big step (3700 years) backwards (1)

Palestrina (715471) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086532)

Even King Hammurabi got it better than this. At least he ensured the laws were open to all [robweir.com] .

It came from Schenectady (1)

Mathinker (909784) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086556)

It came from Schenectady [wikipedia.org] (buyable from Amazon)

(I think it was Longyear who, when asked from where he got all the ideas for his science fiction stories, replied that he would send money to a P.O. box in Schenectady and that the ideas got sent to him by reply mail.)

"Proprietary Software"? (1)

ahankinson (1249646) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086574)

What I find more troubling than the copyright situation is that the city is paying a company ("General Code") to index and make the records available, but that any disk that ships with this has to have a copy of General Code's software in order to read it! Which means, of course, that GC has a pretty sweet revenue stream in perpetuity - even the city counsellors themselves couldn't access it without the consent and continued existence of GC.

It goes both ways (1)

smitty777 (1612557) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086588)

So, if I copyright my tax forms, can I charge the government for each copy they receive?

Re:It goes both ways (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086650)

Only the creative, non-factual parts of your tax forms. If you're being creative on your 1040, you've got more problems than trying to collect royalties from the IRS.

Misleading Headline (4, Informative)

deiol (741017) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086622)

The headline states that the laws are only available via a $200 license, but that is not the case. The laws currently exist in two forms, a paper version and an electronic version that is stored in a proprietary format. The paper copy is held in multiple 3-ring binders and would cost $656 to reproduce, and in order to read the proprietary electronic format you would need to license the software required for $200. No one ever said the laws themselves were copyrighted. They are also available to view for free in multiple public locations, "White said copies of the code, with updates early this year, are on file at the Schenectady Public Library, Schenectady County Supreme Court Library, the Schenectady County Community College Library and several other locations."

So you can see that no one is preventing anyone from viewing the laws, the problem is if you want your own personal copy it just isn't financially feasible at this time. Luckily the city realizes this and they're working to get a copy of the code online, which will be accessible for free. It shouldn't be this difficult to view city laws electronically so searching is simpler, and this is a good example of why we shouldn't use proprietary formats. Although your content is owned by you, you're limited to what you can do with it because of the format it's in.

New business opportunities. (3, Funny)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 4 years ago | (#30086636)

Dear City Council of Schenectady

I would like to recommend to you an interesting article.

The subject is a result of my study "Location, timer settings and defusing codes of explosive devices located in various public buildings of the City of Schenectady".

I'm convinced you would be very interested in the information contained therein. I am willing to sell you a copy of said article, but considering its literary and informational value, I estimate it to be worth $10mln.

Simultaneously I would like to state I have no connection with manufacturers of these devices nor people who planted them. This is merely an scientific work of an informative study that should be of interest to all citizens of the city.

Faithfully, yours, ...

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?