Greater Greater Washington

Government


A copy of DC's laws is now free and open

After open data advocates pointed out how ridiculous it is that private companies have a copyright on the only publicly-available versions of DC's laws, DC Council General Counsel David Zvenyach helped make a public domain version and posted it online.


Photo from BoingBoing.

Tom MacWright explained the problem last month. DC, like many governments, contracts with a company (in this case LexisNexis) to compile all of the laws and keep them updated as they change. They post the laws online, but with licenses that restrict your rights to reuse the information, even though it's the public law.

Rather than ignoring the problem or issuing silly legal threats against people who were digitizing the code without permission, Zvenyach worked with the advocates to create a version of the code free of these restrictions.

Mike Masnick writes at TechDirt:

Part of the issue was that the only digital copy of the code that they had was the one given to them by West, and it contained a variety of extraneous information that was West's IP, including West logos on each section of the law (representing many thousands of copies). Zvenyach had Joshua Tauberer come by and spend a day removing every bit of West IP from the document and quickly releasing a downloadable copy of the DC Code with a CC0 public domain license.
Tom MacWright notes that this is just one step:
There are a few things that this isn't: it isn't the official copy of the code, and lawyers would be ill-advised to cite it alone. It isn't up-to-datethe council is fast-moving and this is just a snapshot. In time we'll fix these problems too.
What can people do with an open source set of DC laws? We can think of a lot of things, but the best part is when people do things we don't think of. Some commenters on MacWright's post wondered why this matters; can't you just find the code on the existing website? Yes, you can't link directly to a part of the code, and can only download pieces in Microsoft Word, but so what?

So what is all the ways someone could build better tools to make it easier to find the laws. Someone already made a tool that's for some purposes better than the official site. Or people could write automated programs to compare the laws on some topics, like yielding to pedestrians, to those in other states. (Hey, that would be a great idea! Has someone done that yet?)

Do you have ideas or want to implement some? MacWright is organizing a hackathon on Sunday. If you build something neat with the code, let us know and we'll show it off here.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

Comments

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Is this just about the statutes? Sometimes tracking down the regulations can be even more frustrating. Much of the traffic rules of the law in DC are DDOT regulations.

by JimT on Apr 10, 2013 10:06 am • linkreport

"Or people could write automated programs to compare the laws on some topics, like yielding to pedestrians, to those in other states. (Hey, that would be a great idea! Has someone done that yet?)"

ULC, meet Dave. Dave, meet ULC.

by charlie on Apr 10, 2013 10:11 am • linkreport

I can't open the public domain version. I download the zip file, but it extracts to a .cpgz extension. What do I do with that?

by Steve on Apr 10, 2013 10:18 am • linkreport

Regulations are here, on DC's official site (so I don't believe there are the same issues):

http://www.dcregs.dc.gov/Search/DCMRSearchByTitle.aspx

by George on Apr 10, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

@Steve - See here: http://hints.macworld.com/article.php?story=20120326045439340

by Marty on Apr 10, 2013 12:58 pm • linkreport

"The council is fast moving..."

What city was this guy talking about? Certainly not DC.

by Mike Rogers on Apr 11, 2013 8:10 am • linkreport

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