BOISE, Idaho — Idaho law students Jordan Stott and Randi Schumacher have spent nearly three years poring over the nuances of many laws. Now they're trying to write their own.
An Idaho House panel introduced a bill — drafted by Stott and Schumacher — that would remove Idaho's copyright on its state laws and add them to the public domain.
The University of Idaho law students argue that if citizens need to follow Idaho's laws, then they should be free to access and reproduce it.
And even though the unofficial text of the statutes is available online, the students say that it's more difficult to access the commentary that accompanies the code.
"You're getting the words of the code, but you're not getting the annotations and notes that are so helpful for understanding," said Stott, who has previously worked with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Democratic Rep. Ilana Rubel from Boise says she's not sure if the bill will move forward because of pushback from the Idaho Code Commission.
Dan Bowen, who represents the Commission, says the public has ample access to the official code in county law libraries across the state.
People must otherwise buy access to an online version of the code, the students say, or purchase the printed version, which costs more than $500.
"I'm a little concerned about that because we have a big state, and a lot of people can't get to a law library," said Democratic Rep. Ilana Rubel from Boise. "I think it does impair the access somewhat."
After Rubel recognized the concern, she asked the students to research what the policy should be — and then write the bill itself.
But Rep. Richard Wills, who chairs the House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee says he's still uncertain whether he will give the bill a full hearing.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, roughly 30 state governments surveyed — including Idaho— hold a copyright on their codes.
Idaho has held the copyright on its official law since 1949. The state is currently under contract with Matthew Bender and Company, Inc.
The business is tasked with organizing and maintaining the code, as well as updating its accompanying annotations. Without the financial incentive, Bowen says, there's no reason for Bender to keep updating the notes — which Bowen says the state doesn't have the capacity to handle.
"I'm sure there was some sort of a reason whenever they originally did this, but I wouldn't know," said Bowen. "That's the way it has been set up, and that's the way it works."
The contract shows that the state pays more than $400,000 per year for 1,025 copies of the full annotated code.
But the students say that the copyright's repeal would allow people to come up with new ways to access the laws.
"It's not enjoyable to read and not easy to search," said Schumacher, who plans to practice law in Boise after her graduation this spring. "If people were able to use the code to make apps or a website, I think that would be good innovation."
Rubel says the students plan to meet with the Code Commission soon in an effort to hammer out a compromise.