How Washington D.C.’s Laws Were Set Free for Web Viewing

“On Greater Greater Washington, Tom MacWright recently wrote a blog entry highlighting the problems of access to the Washington, D.C. Code. There is, first, a legal obstacle: Washington D.C. claims copyright over their laws, which is to say that it is illegal to reproduce them without permission of the city. Then, second, what is perhaps a more significant obstacle: They outsource the maintenance of their legal code. The city of Washington, D.C. long ago started paying WestLaw — and now LexisNexis — to turn the D.C. Council’s bills into laws. As a result, they now have neither the knowledge nor the infrastructure to maintain their own laws. The only way that D.C. can find out what their laws say is to pay LexisNexis to tell them. This is consequently true for the public, as well. If a resident of D.C. — like MacWright — wants to know what the law says, there’s no sense in asking (or FOIA-ing) the city, because the city has outsourced the process so completely that they know nothing.” (via PBS)

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