Public.Resource.Org (PRO) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation dedicated to publishing and sharing public domain materials in the United States and internationally. It was founded by Carl Malamud and is based in Sebastopol, California.
Public.Resource.Org takes particular interest in digitizing and making accessible the works of the United States Federal Government, which because of US government licensing rules for its own work are almost always in the public domain. Major projects conducted by the organization include the digitizing and sharing of large numbers of court records, US government-produced video, and laws of various places.
The organization often advertises its work by saying "Yes We Scan", a play on Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign slogan "Yes We Can". The Yes We Scan focus as of autumn 2013 is an effort to digitize and publish every available set of safety standards for every jurisdiction in the world.
- 1 Operation strategy
- 2 Projects
- 2.1 Access to IRS Form 990 (information return of tax-exempt entities) in digital format
- 2.2 Access to United States legal resources
- 2.3 FedFlix
- 2.4 Yes We Scan
- 2.5 C-SPAN video licensing
- 2.6 Smithsonian Institution protest
- 2.7 Academic publishing
- 2.8 American Society for Testing and Materials et al. v. Public.Resource.Org
- 2.9 Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org
- 3 Responses
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Malamud works on the premise that information in the public domain, and particularly government-generated information of this sort, ought to be as easy as possible for the public to access. In doing this, he identifies interesting collections of information held by organizations which have failed to grant free public access to it. Two typical circumstances are that the creator of the information has failed to make it available online in any form, or that the creator has provided the information to a private company which itself charges fees for access to the information. At this point, Malamud acquires the free information himself, publishes it in public.resource.org as a free communication channel, and then demonstrates publicly that he has made information free when otherwise it would not be and calls for pressure on the holder of the information to collaborate in developing the information release.
Access to IRS Form 990 (information return of tax-exempt entities) in digital format
In 2013, Public.Resource.Org filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requesting copies of nine annual information reports (Form 990) for tax-exempt entities in MeF (modernized e-file) format. The IRS refused to provide the MeF files, claiming that the effort to edit them to conform to required privacy standards for the filers represented an unreasonable burden. On January 29, 2015, a U.S. District Court ruled against the IRS, requiring that the IRS provide the requested files within 60 days. Observers believe that this decision will result in the IRS moving more rapidly toward providing electronic versions of Form 990 to the public.
Access to United States legal resources
In 2007 Malamud began publishing the full text of United States legal opinions dating from 1880 in an effort to begin a process intended to create a free publicly accessible database intended to hold the entirety of US Case law. Goals of the project included the creation of "an unencumbered full-text repository of the Federal Reporter, the Federal Supplement, and the Federal Appendix" and "an unencumbered full-text repository of all state and federal cases and codes."  In describing this project, journalist Tim O'Reilly described this information to be "clearly public data" yet also "the crown jewels of public data available for profit", as companies including West had collected billions of dollars in fees for granting access to this data.
Malamud called for increased awareness that Westlaw was a commercial broker of the United States Federal Reporter, Federal Supplement, and Federal Appendix. While Westlaw had been adding value to the content by indexing it with their proprietary West American Digest System and accompanying summaries, the purchase of their products was the only way to access much of the public domain material they hosted. Malamud began to distribute these materials for free while saying in an open letter to the company
... it seems fairly clear that a large part of the publication stream is tightly interwoven into the very substance of the operation of the courts, with West serving as the either contractual or de-facto sole vendor reporting on behalf of the court. ... You have already received rich rewards for the initial publication of these documents ... We wish to make this information available to (the public) ... It is crucial that the public domain data be available for anybody to build upon.
Public.Resource.Org collects old and forgotten United States government video, digitizes it, and distributes it for free online in a project called FedFlix. Video is purchased or requested from government agencies such as the National Technical Information Service. These videos are digitized and uploaded with metadata to YouTube and Public.Resource.Org's servers. Most of these videos were produced with federal government funding and intended for educational purposes. There is also a collection of videos from FedFlix at the Internet Archive which contains over 8,700 items.
YouTube's Content ID tool helps copyright holders make requests to remove their copyrighted videos from YouTube. Malamud has complained that large media organizations are using this tool to unfairly attack and call for the removal of Public.Resource.Org's upload of US federal government videos on the improper claim of their copyright over them, when in fact these works are purported by the US government to be public domain works.
Yes We Scan
"Yes We Scan" is a phrase used as a name for various Public.Resource.Org projects which have the goal of digitizing and making available large collections of documents.
In 2011 Public.Resource.org submitted a "YesWeScan.org" proposal to the United States federal government petitioning system We the People asking for the creation of a plan to scan all public federal government holdings. David Ferriero responded to the petition describing efforts to increase availability of government archives.
In 2013 Public.Resource.Org organized a fundraiser for a Yes We Scan project to collect, digitize, and make available all government safety standards in every country. In 2010 Public.Resource.Org managed a smaller project to free the public safety codes in California in the United States.
C-SPAN video licensing
In 2007 Malamud petitioned for more open access to some C-SPAN recordings.
C-SPAN is a private media company which records and broadcasts the discussions of the United States Congress. The company's business model is to provide its recordings for fees to cable and satellite television broadcasters.
In February 2007, Nancy Pelosi was publishing on her blog as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and inserted video clips from C-SPAN into her messages. Persons representing her opposing political party claimed that she was violating copyright in using the videos. C-SPAN investigated the situation and found that in some cases she was and in other cases she was not, and they clarified their position in the media.
C-SPAN confirmed that through more than 25 years of operating it had consistently asserted its copyright over all of the material which it created with its own cameras, which was 85-95% of its content. The rest of its content was produced on the House and Senate floors with government cameras, and this material was in fact public domain content as a work of the US federal government. A representative of C-SPAN said that "It is perfectly understandable to me that people would be confused ... (because the situation is that) when a congressman says something on the floor it is public domain, but (when) he walks down the street to a committee hearing or give a speech and (then) it is not public domain. The representative went on to say that "I think a lot of people don't understand (that) C-SPAN is a business, just like CNN is, ... (and) If we don't have a revenue stream, we wouldn't have six crews ready to cover Congressional hearings."
In 2007 Malamud petitioned for more open access to some C-SPAN recordings. Electronic Frontier Foundation credited Malamud's efforts and a letter to Brian Lamb of C-SPAN to their agreement in 2007 to make congressional recordings much more accessible.
Smithsonian Institution protest
In 2006 Malamud complained that private company Showtime Networks and the publicly owned Smithsonian Institution were entering a contract to establish Smithsonian Networks without sufficient public disclosure. Under the contract Showtime would be able to deny permission to other media producers wishing access to Smithsonian collections. Documentarian Ken Burns said of this deal "I find this deal terrifying ... It feels like the Smithsonian has essentially optioned America's attic to one company".
Public.Resource.org supports research to identify knowledge within the body of academic publications. A profile in 2019 reported that the organization had collaborated with Jawaharlal Nehru University and Sci-Hub to gather a collection of research literature for use in data mining. The project raised various ethical issues including the right to the public to share in knowledge versus the right of publishers to restrict access to their copyrighted works.
American Society for Testing and Materials et al. v. Public.Resource.Org
In the case of American Society for Testing and Materials et al. v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc., Public.Resource.Org was sued by the American Society for Testing and Materials, the National Fire Protection Association, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers for scanning and making available building codes and fire codes which these organizations consider their copyrighted property. The case was heard in the District Court of the District of Columbia, with Judge Tanya S. Chutkan presiding. Chutkan ruled against Public.Resource.Org. Malamud was ordered to delete all the standards from the Internet. As of September 2017, the case is on appeal to the D.C. Circuit. A number of library and public interest associations have weighed in supporting the position of Public.Resource.Org.
In 2018, the D.C. Circuit reversed and remanded the decision, holding that the fair use doctrines had been improperly applied.
Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org
In the United States, laws, statutes, and court decisions are considered to be in the public domain, available to the public for free and not protected by copyright. The Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA) is the official law of Georgia, containing both the official statutes as well as annotations written by LexisNexis for the state, which explain and expound upon the statutes, containing information such as "summaries of state attorney general's opinions, advisory opinions by the State Bar of Georgia, summaries of important court rulings, excerpts of law review articles, legislative histories[,] and repeals". The Georgia government asserts that it holds the copyright to the OCGA; further, Georgia's legislature has exempted itself from the state's open records law. While the state claims that the OCGA is easily accessibly via libraries, journalists for Atlanta news channel 11Alive were "unable to find a complete set of current law books at three branches of the Fulton County Public Library, including the main branch in downtown Atlanta", noting that "[t]he law books were kept behind a locked door, and we had to ask for special permission to view them. Some volumes were as much as six years out of date." Additionally, LexisNexis' website displays only the statutory code and not the annotations.
In 2013, Malamud purchased a 186-volume hard copy of the OCGA (at a cost of over $1,000; the cost is just below $400 for Georgia residents) and published the contents on Public.Resource.Org; in response, in 2015 the Code Revision Commission of the Georgia General Assembly, which oversees the OCGA's copyright, sued PRO for copyright infringement, demanding that the OCGA be taken offline. In the lawsuit, the state of Georgia further alleged that Malamud's actions reflected a "strategy of terrorism". State representative Johnnie Caldwell Jr., Chairman of the Code Revision Commission, issued a statement explaining that "the OCGA contains two separate and distinct types of content... the law itself... [and] ancillary material, such as cross references, case annotations, editor's notes, law reviews, etc. Such ancillary material is expressly not law." On March 23, 2017, a federal court in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled in favor of the state, writing that PRO did not "[meet] its burden of proving fair use, and [the state of Georgia] [is] entitled to partial summary judgment". PRO immediately appealed.
On October 18, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit unanimously struck down the previous ruling, finding that the OCGA is "intrinsically public domain material" and that its annotations "clearly have authoritative weight in explicating and establishing the meaning and effect of Georgia's laws". Citing both Banks v. Manchester (1888), in which the Supreme Court found that "there can be no copyright in the opinions of the judges, or in the work done by them in their official capacity as judges", and a report from the Copyright Office noting that "the judicially established rule... still prevent[s] copyright in the text of state laws... and similar official documents", the court found that "the annotations in the OCGA, while not having the force of law, are part and parcel of the law. They are so enmeshed with Georgia's law as to be inextricable... They are therefore uncopyrightable". The government of Georgia appealed to the Supreme Court.
Both PRO and the state of Georgia urged the Supreme Court to grant certiorari to the government's appeal; on June 24, 2019, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case (No. 18-1150), which is currently set for argument on December 2, 2019.
- United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (July 17, 2018). "American Society for Testing v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc., No. 17-7035 (D.C. Cir. 2018)". Justia. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
Between 2012 and 2014, PRO uploaded hundreds of technical standards, which, collectively, were downloaded tens of thousands of times.
- O'Reilly, Tim (19 August 2007). "Carl Malamud Takes on WestLaw". radar.oreilly.com. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
- "Order On Cross-Motions For Summary Judgment" (PDF), Public.Resource.org v. United States Internal Revenue Service (Court Filing), N.D.C.A., No. 3:13-cv-02789 (Docket 62), Jan 29, 2015, retrieved Jul 24, 2017 – via Recap
"Order On Motion For Attorney's Fees" (PDF), Public.Resource.org v. United States Internal Revenue Service (Court Filing), N.D.C.A., No. 3:13-cv-02789 (Docket 97), Nov 20, 2015, retrieved Jul 24, 2017 – via Recap
- Neil, Martha (24 September 2010). "$2M Google Grant Puts Struggling Legal Document Access Project in the Black". ABA Journal. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
- Twohill, Lorraine (24 September 2010). "$10 million for Project 10^100 winners". googleblog.blogspot.com. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
- Badger, Emily (30 September 2010). "Nonprofit Fedflix Smoothes Access to Federal Video Archive". Pacific Standard. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
- "FedFlix: Free Movies: Download & Streaming: Internet Archive". Internet Archive. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
- Doctorow, Cory (12 December 2011). "The pirates of YouTube". theguardian.com. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
- Malamud, Carl (26 February 2009). "Carl Malamud: Yes We Scan: Why I Want To Lead The Government Printing Office". huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Ferriero, David (6 February 2012). "AOTUS: Collector in Chief - Yes We Scan Again! The Archives chats with voters on a "We the People" teleconference". blogs.archives.gov. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Malamud, Carl (2013). "Public Safety Codes of the World: Stand Up For Safety! by Carl Malamud, Public.Resource.Org". kickstarter.com. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Doctorow, Cory (9 December 2010). "California's safety codes are now open source!". boingboing.net. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Cohen, Noam (26 February 2007). "Which Videos Are Protected? Lawmakers Get a Lesson". The New York Times. New York: NYTC. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
- von Lohmann, Fred (7 March 2007). "C-SPAN Unchains Congressional Hearing Videos". eff.org. Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
- Doctorow, Cory (1 March 2007). "Dear C-SPAN: you're not Disney, Congress isn't Mickey". boingboing.net. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
- O'Reilly, Tim (5 April 2006). "Smithsonian Sunshine - O'Reilly Radar". radar.oreilly.com. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Wyatt, Edward (1 April 2006). "Smithsonian Agreement Angers Filmmakers". The New York Times. New York: NYTC. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 20 October 2013.
- Pulla, Priyanka (17 July 2019). "The plan to mine the world's research papers". Nature. 571 (7765): 316–318. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-02142-1.
- "Public.Resource.Org Fights Back Against Copyright Lawsuit". 20 August 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
- ASTM v. Public.Resource.org (Docket Report), No. 1:13-cv-01215, D.D.C., Aug 6, 2013, retrieved Jul 24, 2017 – via Recap (PACER current view)
- Masnick, Mike (February 3, 2017). "Federal Court Basically Says It's Okay To Copyright Parts Of Our Laws". Techdirt.
"Memorandum And Opinion" (PDF), ASTM v. Public.Resource.org (Court Filing), D.D.C., No. 1:13-cv-01215 (Docket 175), Feb 2, 2017, retrieved Jul 24, 2017 – via Recap
"Order" (PDF), ASTM v. Public.Resource.org (Court Filing), D.D.C., No. 1:13-cv-01215 (Docket 176), Feb 2, 2017, retrieved Jul 24, 2017 – via Recap
- See, e.g., Amicus Brief of Sixty-Six Library Associations, Nonprofit Organizations, Legal Technology Companies, Former Senior Government Officials, Librarians, Innovators, and Professors of Law, submitted Sept. 22, 2017.
- "American Society for Testing v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc". Stanford University. July 17, 2018. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- Rankin, Bill (October 24, 2018). "Federal court: Let people probe the depths of Georgia law for free". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- Keefe, Brendan; Basye, Lindsey (September 20, 2019). "'If you don't know what the law is, can you obey it?': Ga. fights to keep state laws off the internet". 11Alive. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- Story, Richard W. (March 23, 2017). "Code Revision Commission vs. Public.Resource.Org" (PDF). Public.Resource.Org. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- Wolfe, Jan (June 24, 2019). "U.S. high court to rule on scope of copyright for legal codes". Reuters. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- Liptak, Adam (May 13, 2019). "Accused of 'Terrorism' for Putting Legal Materials Online". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- "COMPLAINT FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF" (PDF). Public.Resource.Org. July 21, 2015. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- Caldwell, Johnnie (July 21, 2015). "Rep. Johnnie Caldwell Issues Statement on Copyright Lawsuit". House Press. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- Reichley, Simon (April 12, 2017). "The State of Georgia wins its suit against Carl Malamud for publishing official annotations to the law of the land". Melville House. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- Bukrinsky, Katie (November 29, 2018). ""First Principles" Reaffirmed in Denial of Copyright Protection for Georgia Annotated Code". The National Law Review. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (October 19, 2018). "Code Revision Commission vs. Public.Resource.Org" (PDF). Justia. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- "Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org Inc". SCOTUSblog. September 13, 2019. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- "Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org Inc". Oyez. Retrieved 23 September 2019.
- Nader, Ralph (7 February 2014). "The Law Must Be Free and Accessible to All -- Not Secret and Profitable". huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 9 February 2014.