A recent legal battle between two online publishers, Fastcase and Casemaker, is pitting the proprietary interests of private companies against the public good. At issue is the extent to which a publisher of online legal content is entitled to copyright claims over state rules and regulations, a seemingly uncomplicated dispute. However, according to the Georgia Secretary of State, which has designated Casemaker as the exclusive publisher of the Georgia Administrative Code, the question is indeed more complex.
The Georgia Secretary of State has granted Casemaker the right to publish, distribute, and license its rules and regulations, but Fastcase has taken exception to that right, maintaining that Georgia regulations are public law, published under statutory mandate as part of the public domain, and therefore uncopyrightable. Based on this belief, Fastcase posted the Georgia Administrative Code on its online platform, making it available to many thousands of Fastcase subscribers, including state bar association members throughout the country. Lawriter, the parent company of Casemaker, sent Fastcase a demand letter asking them to stop publishing the Georgia rules and regulations or requesting that they purchase a subscription to the electronic files. Instead of capitulating to Casemaker’s demands, Fastcase sued, saying that no private publisher is entitled to claim copyright over public regulations. The Georgia Secretary of State's office has expressed its desire to ensure that the Fastcase litigation does not hinder public access to the state's administrative laws but the Secretary of State has since made no further comment. The ultimate outcome of the case remains to be seen.