Normally, when a requester obtains a document from the courthouse or an environmental report from the state EPA and makes it available (or even resells it), copyright concerns simply do not present themselves. The Supreme Court of South Carolina, however, has held that counties may claim copyright in public records, and that the right to access them does not imply a right to copy them commercially. The court remanded the case for determination of other issues, such as the appropriate access fee.
The ACLU of Virginia has sued the state seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against a law that makes it illegal to intentionally communicate another's social security number to the public. This law, Va. Code 59.1-443.2 (link is to prior version of law) exempted public records, but the legislature deleted that exemption in March of this year.
A bill has been introduced in the NJ legislature that would raise the cost of accessing public records dealing with land use and the environment. According to the agency, a small minority of requestors (lawyers, real estate professionals) submit a disproportionate number of requests. The future of the bill is uncertain at this time.
The attorney general of Washington state has filed an amicus brief opposing the right of felons to make public records request. Apparently, some violent offenders have filed numerous requests for information about corrections officers and the like. The AG wants the court to deny felons access to public records in the absence of a statute.
Yoko sued Ben Stein (best known as either Ferris Bueller's teacher or of Comedy Central fame) over the use of a few seconds of "Imagine" in a documentary favoring intelligent design theory called "Expelled." A court found the use of the clip to be fair use, finding that the film used a few moments of the song to disagree with its premise. The court found that the clip was used for commentary and criticism, not for a substitutive purpose. A copy of the opinion is here.
We noted here that the networks had told Redlasso to cease and desist from further dissemination of TV clips and programs, which are used by bloggers and other web sites for the purposes of social commentary. According to Wired's blog, Redlasso appears to be asserting the noninfringing uses by third-parties as a defense to the networks' action.
Until recently, it was only the states whose legislation faced judicial scrutiny under the dormant commerce clause, which prohibits states from enacting legislation like "only residents of state x may sell milk in state x". The federal government, on the other hand, only has to show that the regulated activity might "affect" interstate commerce, and such statutes receive the lowest level of scrutiny available. In recent years, however, the Rhenquist Court put the brakes on Congress's ability to enact such legislation, and struck down a "guns near schools" statute because of the lack of an insufficient nexus with interstat commerce. It then struck down a violence against women statute on similar grounds.
Relying on these authorities, a federal judge in Minnesota ruled that Congress superseded its authority when it permitted the federal government to seek civil commitment for a sex offender that had been imprisoned pursuant to state law. As (a) there are now differing results in several circuits, and (b) the decisions involve the constitutionality of an act of Congress, the eventuality of Supreme Court review seems a near certainty.
It's one of the more obscure provisions of the '76 Act, but section 602 of the existing law prevents the importation of lawfully made copies into the united states under most circumstances. When that provision was being considered, a couple of issues were clear. First, no one gave much thought to the proposition of parallel importation, to wit: what happens if a work is lawfully made and sold abroad? Can it be re-imported? The Supreme Court eventually answered yes. Second, much of the discussion of that provision focused not on the ins and outs of gray market importing (which would become more important years later) but on the role of Customs, which was not thrilled about having to determine which lawfully made items could be stopped at the border and how to do so.
It seems a modified version of that debate is arising again, only in the context of a treaty, which purports to give border control the power to search and seize electronic equipment on the basis that it might contain infringing material.