Rogue archivist Carl Malamud isn't a mere open-access advocate: he's a highly specialized open-access ninja, laser-focused on access to the law, which is weird, because you'd assume that the law is public by default.

And it has been, historically. But the neoliberal era, with its emphasis on starving governments of the budgets needed to do their work, offset by private-public partnerships that shift core government functions to for-profit entities, has been a disaster for access to law.


Take public safety codes: these are developed by "nonprofit" consortia and standards orgs, often will millions in revenue and six-figure execs, and then "adopted by reference" into your city's safety code.

If you want to know whether your contractor has complied with safety codes, or what you should do to make your own lawful upgrades, it can cost thousands of dollars - just to find out the laws you're expected to follow.


Or jury instructions - how judges tell juries to deliberate. Without access to these, lawyers can't determine if their clients are getting a fair shake. But in WI, they're copyrighted, cost $500/year, and many lawyers depend on outddated versions.



Or annotated law: the official annotations that judges rely upon to interpret the law. States have partnered with outside orgs to create these, which means if you live in that state and want to know what your law means, you have to pay to see it.


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Carl Malamud has gone to court - even the Supreme Court - to defend your right to read and utter the law. He's risked millions in personal liability, even criminal prosecution, all because of his conviction that you should face no barriers to reading and reproducing the law.

Malamud set out the case for making the law free to read and publish in his 2013 essay, "The Twelve Tables of Code."


It's a powerful statement - and a whirlwind history - of the relationship between the law's legitimacy and its public accessibility. Now, he's recorded a new video edition:

Which you can also get as audio:

It's powerful, stirring stuff from a person who has selflessly and tirelessly fought for one of your most foundational rights.

Image: Joi Ito



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