Public.Resource.Org 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 government in the world.
- 1 Operation strategy
- 2 Projects
- 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".
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.
- O'Reilly, Tim (19 August 2007). "Carl Malamud Takes on WestLaw". radar.oreilly.com. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
- 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.
- Nader, Ralph (7 February 2014). "The Law Must Be Free and Accessible to All -- Not Secret and Profitable". huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
- "Public.Resource.Org Fights Back Against Copyright Lawsuit". 20 August 2013. Retrieved 2 July 2014.
- Docket at Justia
- Masnick, Mike (February 3, 2017). "Federal Court Basically Says It's Okay To Copyright Parts Of Our Laws". Techdirt.