Yes, what laws exist should be made available in as many formats as possible, including some easily accessible electronic format. I doubt that anybody here would disagree with that.
But the real issue here is that there are so many laws and regulations that it becomes impossible for any one human being to know all of them. Any person who goes about their day in a normal fashion breaks multiple laws every day.
When the state starts policing moral and ethical behavior rather than merely defending people against aggression, you come up with page after page of laws and it becomes impossible to know what is correct. This culture of "every problem needs a law to solve it" is in my opinion the priority here, not merely making thousands of pages of useless laws somehow more accessible. You're never going to read them anyway.
Saying "we have too many laws--nobody can know them all at once" is like saying "Linux has too many lines of code--nobody can understand it all at once." The complexity is unavoidable. You can shift it around, but you can't get rid of it.
Furthermore, it is probably possible for most reasonable people in such a society to know what fields of human endeavor are regulated under the law and to look up and understand the applicable regulations. Of course, some fields and their associated regulations are very technical, but it seems to be a reasonable goal that anyone with enough expertise to work in such a field, even as an amateur can also understand the associated laws.
Even if, for the sake of argument, we take that as true... the fact that something hasn't been done yet does not necessarily prove that it's impossible. If everyone simply accepted the status quo as inevitable, we would never make any progress at all.
No, but it does suggest that if it were easy and efficient, someone would have done it already.
Lots of very smart mathematicians predated Newton and Leibniz.
For example when a regulated group achieves regulatory capture, it is in their interests to create new regulations of great complexity. See, for instance, the way that under Bush regulations on the financial industry increased, at the same time as the amount to which those regulations kept incumbents from doing what they wanted to decreased.
I think the size of our regulatory institutions are, within an order of magnitude, consistent with the needs of our enormous and complex society. Within that scope, I would favor codifying less and leaving more to the discretion of regulatory bodies. That would lead to a reduction in the volume of law in trade for an accretion of power in regulatory bodies. I think dramatic reductions in the scope of regulation would lead to diminished prosperity. I don't think there is a practical way to reduce the volume of law while holding both variables constant.
So in short, I don't think we have an "excess" of law, at least not within an order of magnitude. It's hard to argue with success--America and England are the two most legalistic societies in the history of the world, and are also the two most successful. I think the scope of their regulatory institutions should get some credit for that success, a basic enabler of highly complex, integrated, organized, specialized industrial society.
As an aside, consider something like the internet. The internet has a lot of "law": Ethernet, LTE, TCP/IP, HTML, CSS, JS, DOC, PDF, SMTP, POP, etc. And that's just for the relatively simple task of exchanging two dimensional mostly textual documents! Nobody implements all these correctly, but would the internet be as successful without them?
Fundamentally, we need some people telling everyone what to do and how to do it. At some level. You can't build the world we live in without that. There are various ways to do it, but law is how you do it in a mostly democratic manner.
And it is probably worth looking through the laws for instances where consensus-based processes like that could, perhaps not eliminate, but move some of the complexity from the regulatory system where it serves as a trap for the unwary into voluntary standards that work because it's in everyone's interest to follow them.
At the same time, you can still have a set of guidelines and issue warnings (but not penalties) for violations so that people will have notice that if the evil the guidelines are intended to prevent occurs as a result of their violation they'll be responsible for it. Sort of like a compiler warning. But if no evil results because you're doing something sensible but merely unanticipated, or because you've taken some alternative precautions with similar effectiveness, then no penalty would attach as long as no evil occurs.
This approach probably works best where the consequences of a violation don't involve risk of physical harm. Allowing a certain amount of risk of economic harm that the perpetrator is required to compensate for or be punished for causing in the event it occurs is much more palatable than the same when the risk is physical injury, because economic harm can be perfectly compensated for or insured against in ways that physical injury obviously can't.
It's a counter example in the context of a discussion about alternative ways to enforce (or not) rules, but not in a discussion about the complexity of the rules themselves.
As for enforcement, I agree it's interesting to look at examples of cooperative processes, but a relevant distinction is that breaking rules on the internet don't usually have consequences to other people. When they do, we do get calls to "enforce" the rules, e.g. in the context of net neutrality.
I guess I'm trying to distinguish between rules (that are enforced) and standards or principles that are adhered to voluntarily, with the point being that you can in many cases reduce complexity in the rules by moving it somewhere else that doesn't require coercion to operate.
>As for enforcement, I agree it's interesting to look at examples of cooperative processes, but a relevant distinction is that breaking rules on the internet don't usually have consequences to other people.
I would think they generally would: If someone doesn't follow the standard then compatibility is impaired and the users of that software won't be able to interact fully or at all with users of software that does comply with the standard. That certainly negatively impacts them if they desire that compatibility, we just haven't chosen to make that negative impact illegal/punishable in most cases.
>When they do, we do get calls to "enforce" the rules, e.g. in the context of net neutrality.
Network neutrality is probably a bad example of "internet" regulation because despite the name it's really telecommunications regulation, which is a very different animal. The need for network neutrality comes from the existence of other telecommunications regulations: If (hypothetically) Uncle Sam didn't exclusively license the wireless spectrum or provide only select companies with massive subsidies and access to eminent domain to lay cable then there would be no call for network neutrality, but once the government steps in to establish a monopoly or cartel it then has to limit its power.
I would think the better example of your point would be Microsoft being hit with antitrust for breaking compatibility with Java in breach of the license.
Also: Babylon was essentially a dictatorship. You don't need law when one person is empowered to call all the shots.
What really leads to complexity in the legal code is the level of institutionalized corruption. AKA only companies owned by someone living within 50 miles of X and 30 miles of Y may do XYZ. Coupled with the age of the legal system which adds cruft over time.
Complexity in the society the legal code is designed to govern is irrelevant to the complexity of that legal code?
> What really leads to complexity in the legal code is the level of institutionalized corruption. AKA only companies owned by someone living within 50 miles of X and 30 miles of Y may do XYZ.
Do you think that's what laws actually look like?
Yes, that law was an exaggeration but there are plenty of examples that include specifics on where the headquarters is which is effectively the same thing.
As to pork, the 50 billion sandy bill 17 billion relating to sand and then a bunch of random junk such as 33 million for Amtrack which is a for profit company. Now in this case nobody felt the need to hide it, but there are plenty of past spending bills aka law that have really specific contract requirements. EX: 693,000$ (~1/20,000th the budget) for beef improvement research in Missouri and Texas went to the Beef Improvement Federation as the only group meeting the requirements despite not being directly named in law. Granted by it's self not a big deal but plenty of things such as vary narrow import tarrifs stick around ex: refined vs raw sugar. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/sc019
You may be right, but this does sound a bit like "no true scotsman" territory.
Really, though, if we all backed up a bit, I think many of us would agree with some of both sides in this discussion, like throwaway's general point that efforts to simplify legal codes could be very valuable, even if we probably don't want to rigidly subscribe to the "someone should be able to easily learn all laws" test.
Even the most abject dictatorships have courts and laws simply because one man has limited time.
I had thought Hacker News was smart enough to avoid letting even the most intelligent, well articulated thread derailment to get to the top of its pages.
I've heard this assertion so many times, and after thinking about it, I don't think it's actually true. I agree with the sentiment of your comment, but I don't think I'm actually breaking multiple laws every day. Feel free to prove me wrong.
Edit: Could anyone at least provide me with an example of some laws that many people, and perhaps I, break every day unknowingly? That would be a start.
Not stopping completely at a stop sign.
Sharing a cat photo you found online. Doubly so if you rehosted it (imgur, Instagram, etc). Sharing stuff on the internet, even without shades of piracy, is fraught with copyright problems.
Speeding. I'd be very surprised if you drove at or below the speed limit all the time, every day.
Not speeding - there are minimum speed statutes in some jurisdictions.
Not in the US, but in other jurisdictions like Japan and France, taking a random picture on the street where someone is identifiable.
The list goes on, and on, and on...
Here in Seattle it used to be quite common to get a ticket for jaywalking. Now it only seems to happen if you block traffic flow on a downtown street during rush hour.
According to Texas Criminal and Traffic Law section 101.31, possession of more than one quart of liquor or more than 24 12-ounce beers in a dry area is evidence of intent to sell alcohol.
I've lived in two dry cities in TX, BTW.
Do you have specific knowledge of someone possessing controlled substances in a jurisdiction or situation where they're forbidden (e.g., someone in a medical marijuana state who possesses even misdemeanor amounts of pot but doesn't have official medical sanction for its use, or anyone possessing any amount in a "dry" state)? Obstruction of justice.
Have you ever taken a "mental health day" and called in sick when you aren't actually sick? You've defrauded your employer.
These are all acts specifically described as illegal by the relevant statute.
EDIT: clarifying language on "exceeding authorized access" case.
The court adopted this interpretation and expanded its scope, ruling that an employee "exceeds authorized access" under the CFAA when they use a computer in way that violates an employer's access restrictions...
They decided that, as a logical extension of this finding, the question of whether an employee "exceeds authorized access" is likewise determined by the employer's actions, including (but not limited to) the promulgation of computer use restrictions. Since Korn/Ferry indeed had such computer use restrictions, which the defendants violated when they accessed the executive database for fraudulent purposes, the Ninth Circuit court reversed the district court's decision and remanded the district court to reinstate the five counts under Section (a)(4). 
If your employer says you can't browse Facebook or Hacker News with your work computer, and you do, you're "exceeding authorized access".
Perhaps we should focus on writing laws that protect people and allow common sense back into our court rooms? These "protecting" laws would primarily used by appellate courts to throw out "bad" convictions (i.e. ones where race or social class likely were used as motive to convict someone, thus preventing legal injustices such as were committed during the Jim Crow era).
Our society is extremely complex. There are many many industries and activities that need to be individually regulated. Let's take a few examples of very specific, arcane laws that are important for everyday people who might not even know about them.
Suppose you buy a home, and in the bathroom, there is an exhaust fan. You use that fan for years, and one day discover that it has been venting into your attic, and that your attic is thus absolutely full of toxic mold that will cost a small fortune to remove. And if you don't remove it, you're endangering your health and possibly making your house unsellable.
As it turns out, most jurisdictions in the US require, by way of the building code, that bathroom exhaust fans be vented directly outside. Had that law been in place in your jurisdiction, perhaps you wouldn't have a mold problem today.
Now imagine the FTC doesn't exist, or perhaps that its regulations are vastly simplified. You have a pension plan. You don't pay much attention to how your pension fund is invested. One day, you see on the news that your pension fund has dropped in value by 50%. It turns out the plan was heavily invested in a certain company that looked good in its prospectus but was actually in very bad shape.
If today's FTC existed, with its complex and obscure regulations on how a company must report its financial state, perhaps your pension fund managers would have been able to make a better decision.
Now suppose you rent an apartment. Your landlord turns the heat way down for no apparent reason, and it's 50 degrees in your unit all the time.
In many jurisdictions, there are laws requiring landlords to provide a minimum level of heating. With such a law in place, you could force the landlord to turn the heat back up.
Each of these examples hinges on a law that most people will probably never think about. Yet you may indeed benefit from them many times in your life, without ever knowing it.
It could also be argued that such laws are not guaranteed to prevent the negative outcomes imagined above. This is true. No law will be obeyed 100% of the time. But that doesn't make them useless. Laws can and do influence behavior--when they come with an adequate enforcement mechanism, that is.
Not like the idea would be accepted but, this is a good direction to move into.
Trying to get access to the underlying information and talking with the city's "chief information officer", turns out the actual budget numbers don't really quite add up due to department moves and program changes and such, so they literally have "a guy" who is entering numbers manually into a Word document based on black magic, to make it all add up.
This is the sort of thing where if the tech crowd pushes to get the output data open and accessible, it will be a strong incentive to stop the black magic happening earlier in the process.
I'm calling bullshit. The council should make a law that says all legal code stays in the public domain no matter what. Then a legal case would set up, and then all cities would have resolution on this.
There's nobody else but the council. We don't elect lexis-nexis, and council members are the only guys there that represent our interests.
Yes, it's certainly fair to say it's a complex issue, and there are good reasons why it's not available, but make no mistake: the council here is the only party responsible.
The hard part is compiling the bills. From the blog,
Each bill is then downloaded by an employee of the
company that wins the contract for maintaining the bill.
This person must hold a law degree from an ABA accredited
law school, and they cannot be a subcontractor.
This is why the code can be copyrighted. Like a cookbook which extends a recipe with "substantial literary expression", the code extends the bills with creative expression.
Who cares if they copyright the design, annotations, citations (dubious!), or database structures?
Also, I'm going to point out that non-lawyers like MacWright usually misunderstand the law (and he has in this instance), so his blog is generally not useful guidance.
The article and the HN comments linked are about attempts by private publishers to lay claim to state codes, not about their success in doing so. The blog article concluded that they would be completely unsuccessful as to copyrighting the text itself and generally cites case law supporting this proposition. (See the blog for the cites.)
As I stated before, the text of the state codes cannot be copyrighted as a basic rule of American law.
Other aspects can be copyrighted, and this is where copyright gets tricky. The formatting (i.e., presentation) of a state code can be copyrighted, as can analysis of the code (b/c that is a distinct work), and the particular database selection can also be copyrighted within reason (meaning the particular choice of items stored and the relationships between them, so long as such choice and relationships are not purely functional).
In other words, once you digitize the code the first time, any git could update it.
That might actually be a great idea--store all state and federal laws in public Git repos. Each bill introduced to the legislature is a pull request and if they pass it, it gets merged.
Tech is so far ahead of government and industry it's mind-blowing. What is the D.C. Council paying Westlaw for, again? Having version control and a database?
I mean I've heard of "jurisdictional arbitrage" but even for the US, this is starting to be insane when it applies to the actual letters of the law!
Today people think of "the United States" as both a singular noun and a singular government, but that's not the formal legal structure.
Your point is well taken, though: All laws ought to be open and freely available to the public. Anything else would be Orwellian.
 If you hold the 10th amendment and its juridical descendants to have meaning.
 In the 18th-century sense of the word, i.e. a sovereign jurisdiction.
 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catch-22 
 Yes, I know Orwell didn't write Catch-22.
This is compelling precedent if the copyright dispute ever reaches the federal district court in DC.
I don't see it as requiring a special prohibition of "copyrighting laws", it stems directly from the fact that 'not public domain' is a variably mitigated example of 'secret'.
>>For the reasons discussed above, we REVERSE the district court's judgment against Peter Veeck, and REMAND with instructions to dismiss SBCCI's claims.
I'm told that this decision does not make precedent for the whole US, but rather only that which is under the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit.
See also: https://law.resource.org/
Many states, publishers, and other entities try to claim copyright in parts of the published law:
Some activists have objected:
It's an ongoing problem and is not "bullshit" at all.
The key is fighting back, copy the laws in California, add misdemeanour barratry as a counterclaim as well as SLAPP.
 Feist Pubs., Inc. v. Rural Tel. Svc. Co., Inc. - 499 U.S. 340 (1991) http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us...
 Practice Management v AMA - 121 F.3d 516 (9th Cir. 1997) [writ denied by SCOTUS] http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/people/tfisher/IP/1997%20PMI%20...
Let's not make class warfare easier.
so a citizen's access to a particular DC statute is impossible without that citizen infringing a copyright? I wonder if circumstances such as these would constitute "fair use" (which as i understand it is a valid defense to copyright infringement).
also, i'm aware that doing things that would otherwise constitute intellectual property infringement, can be justified by the "Essential Facilities" doctrine--originally an Anti-Trust safe harbor, though it's also been applied to IP. This seems to apply here.
I'm not sure if D.C. is considered part of the federal government, but if it is, then there's nothing to worry about in terms of copyright violations.
If you had direct access to people (DC, not Westlaw) with the power to change this. How would you phrase the argument against the current situation and what would you suggest as an alternative?
The Zotero lawsuit in Sept. 2008 broke a lot of my faith. I stuck around for a further two years trying to change things as best I could, and even managed to reshape TR's open source software policy, but I couldn't resolve the cognitive dissonance around competent legal practice virtually requiring a subscription to Westlaw and/or Lexis Nexis.
So, I got out. Ended up way happier. You can get out, too. TR has plenty of brilliant folks--engineers, managers, and executives alike--but it's hard to have organization-scale clarity of purpose and execution when you're dealing with 60,000 people.
To buy DC's case law for one attorney, it's a little under $2,000.
I'm guessing the "fair market value" would be INSANE.
Subscriber Agreement and this Order Form will automatically renew for consecutive 12-month periods ("Renewal Term"), and the Monthly WestlawPRO Charges for the Renewal Term will increase 7% per year unless either party gives written notice of cancellation to the other party at least 30 days in advance of any Renewal Term