March 24, 2018

Drones over Princeton: A Goofy Video About a Serious Issue

Last week, privacy attorney Grayson Barber brought her “drone” to CITP in order to do a demo at her talk, “Drones Are Like Flying Computers.” Grayson discussed the many serious legal issues raised by drones (you can watch the video of her presentation here). But her drone takes great video, so I couldn’t resist making a somewhat silly video from the footage that she took during the demo.

(watch the video directly here)

Two Major updates to RECAP: Developers from Around the World Write Code in Memory of Aaron Swartz

A little over two months ago, we joined with the Think Computer Foundation to offer a set of grants in memory of our friend Aaron Swartz. Aaron worked on many issues in his too-short life, but one of those was liberating American court records from behind a pay-wall. He helped to inspire our RECAP project, which has allowed thousands of people to legally liberate and share millions of public records.

We didn’t know if anyone would take up the challenge, but today we are extremely pleased to award two of these grants. These awards recognize some truly amazing coding by software developers that were inspired by Aaron Swartz and his causes. Over the past several years, the two most-requested features for RECAP have been support for US Courts of Appeals (a.k.a. circuit courts), and a version of RECAP that works with the Chrome browser.

Ka-Ping Yee, Filippo Valsorda, and Alessio Palmero Aprosio represent the best kind of technological idealists. They are idealists that not only believe in worthy causes, but also have the engineering expertise and the dogged determination to see their vision through. Read more about them and install their code at

The District of Columbia Claims Copyright on the Law

Update: They released the unofficial version of the DC Code under a CC-0 License. Josh Tauberer has the backstory.

Copyright exists to incentivize people to create new works. The federal government is not allowed to copyright things, because they don’t need the added incentive, and it would be bad if they started charging for access to something like the text of laws that they promulgate. If ignorance of the law is no excuse, the law must be public and knowable.

It’s a little bit more muddled at the state level. The District of Columbia claims that they own the copyright to the municipal code of DC. This is insane. Furthermore, as documented by Tom MacWright, DC has sold the exclusive rights to digital copies of the DC code to West (Thomson Reuters), and they cannot legally redistribute an electronic version of the code. This makes all kinds of democracy-enhancing activities impossible. In fact, even the physical copies of the DC Code bear the notices “Copyright 2001 by The District of Columbia” and “All Rights Reserved.”

Rogue archivist Carl Malamud thought that this was not only stupid, but also illegal. So, he bought all 23 volumes of the DC code for $803.00, scanned them, and posted them on the web. I agreed with Carl, so I downloaded his copies, printed one of the volumes, and took a picture inviting Thomson Reuters or the DC Council to sue me too.
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