Set the Law Free, Say Council Members Lander, Vacca, Kallos Legislation to Put Law Online for Free instead of Behind Paid Subscriptions

 

Set the Law Free, Say Council Members Lander, Vacca, Kallos

Legislation to Put Law Online for Free instead of Behind Paid Subscriptions

 

 New York, New York – Council Members Lander, Vacca and Kallos advocated for a bill that would put all New York City law online in a searchable and user-friendly format at a City Council Joint Hearing of the Committees on Governmental Operations and Technology today, instead of being inaccessible in for-fee websites.  Council Member Brad Lander, prime sponsor of Int. 149, Council Members Ben Kallos and James Vacca, also sponsors, heard support from good government advocates and civic technologists at the hearing.

 

The Laws of New York, which include the City’s Charter and Administrative Code are published by the New York State Legislative Bill Drafting Commission (LBDC).  Three versions of the law are printed and sold by McKinney’s, Gould’s, and the New York Consolidated Law Service (CLS), that are certified by the Assembly Speaker and Senate Temporary President.  The print publication are then sold to Westlaw, LexisNexis and other online legal information vendors that sell access to their services.  While the courts have held that the law itself cannot be copyright, the terms of use for online legal information vendors forbid the use or reproduction of their texts.

 

The New York City Council currently pays for Westlaw subscriptions for attorneys and staff to access the very City laws it is responsible for making.

 

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse.  But how can New Yorkers know the laws if they can’t find them online?  Intro 149 will make sure that all New York City laws are easily accessible and searchable online.  Thank you to Chairs Kallos and Vacca for continuing to move New York City forward in using technology to make essential government information easily and meaningfully available to New Yorkers,” said Lander.

 

“Hammurabi got it right when he made the law available to the public, in the millennia since the law has become less accessible.  We must set the law free and that means online so that the people it governs may access it without payment or restriction,” said Kallos. “I can’t believe I’ve been fighting to put the law online for eight years and despite the advocacy and civic hacking it took getting elected to get this legislation to a hearing.”

 

Kallos founded WikiLaw.org in 2006, merged with Jurispedia.org, in order to make the law more accessible and has been seeking to expand public access and input for the past 8 years. He also founded OpenLegislation.org to put New York State Assembly and New York State Senate attendance and voting records online for free for the first time.

 

"The law is the source code for New York City, its single most important data set," said Seamus Kraft, Executive Director of The OpenGov Foundation, America's leading producer of Internet-ready laws through the AmericaDecoded.org network.  "Yet municipal codes and charters are often the hardest civic information to find online, denying citizens their most basic right to know the laws by which they must live.  Council Member Lander's legislation is a crucial step towards righting this wrong so that New Yorkers can enjoy the user-friendly and restriction-free legal access they deserve."

 

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