Law School Case Brief
Veeck v. S. Bldg. Code Cong. Int'l - 293 F.3d 791 (5th Cir. 2002)
The Copyright Act excludes from copyright protection ideas, procedures, processes, systems methods of operation, or information in the public domain. 17 U.S.C.S. § 102(b). If an idea is susceptible to only one form of expression, the merger doctrine applies and § 102(b) excludes the expression from the Copyright Act. This idea/expression dichotomy strikes a definitional balance between the First Amendment and the Copyright Act by permitting free communication of facts while still protecting an author's expression.
Peter Veeck individually operated "Regional Web" (<http://regionalweb.texoma.net>), a non-commercial website that provides information about north Texas. Sometime in 1997, Veeck decided to post on Regional Web the local building codes of Anna and Savoy, two small towns in north Texas that had adopted the 1994 edition of the Standard Building Code written by appellee, Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc. ("SBCCI"). Eventually, Veeck purchased the 1994 model building codes directly from SBCCI; he paid $ 72.00 and received a copy of the codes on disk. Although the software licensing agreement and copyright notice indicated that the codes could not be copied and distributed, Veeck cut and pasted their text onto his Regional Web. Veeck's website did not specify that the codes were written by SBCCI. Instead, he identified them as the building codes of Anna and Savoy, Texas. The author of the codes, SBCCI, was a non-profit organization whose primary mission was to develop, promote, and promulgate model building codes. SBCCI encouraged local government entities to enact its codes into law by reference, without cost to the governmental entity. No licensing agreements were executed in connection with legislative adoption, nor did SBCCI keep track of the entities that have adopted its codes. While SBCCI continued to assert its copyright prerogatives -- exclusively to publish the codes and license their reproduction and distribution -- even as to codes that have been adopted by local entities, the organization insisted that it granted liberal permission for copying. When Veeck posted the local building codes of Anna and Savoy, SBCCI demanded that he cease and desist from infringing its copyrights. Veeck filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a ruling that he did not violate the Copyright Act. SBCCI counterclaimed for copyright infringement, unfair competition and breach of contract. Both parties moved for summary judgment on the copyright infringement issue. Finding no genuinely disputed material facts, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of SBCCI, including a permanent injunction and monetary damages. Thereafter, Veeck appealed the judgment of the district court.
By posting the local building codes of Anna and Savoy onto his website, did Peter Veeck infringe Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc.’s copyrights?
The appellate court held that when the operator copied only "the law" which he obtained from the organization's publication, and when he reprinted only "the law" of those municipalities, he did not infringe the organization's copyrights in its model building codes. The court reasoned that the building codes could be expressed in only one way; they were facts. The operator placed those facts on his website in precisely the form in which they were adopted by the municipalities.
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