In 2002, after long and costly litigation, Veeck won his case, Veeck vs. Southern Building Code Congress International Inc. Judge Edith Jones wrote for the 5th Circuit Court en banc: "Citizens may reproduce copies of the law for many purposes, not only to guide their actions but to influence future legislation, educate their neighborhood association, or simply to amuse."
On the last day of the U.S. Supreme Court term in June, the justices allowed Veeck's victory to stand.
But special interests still want Congress to allow corporations to exercise exclusive ownership over collections of facts. These same special interests failed to pass a similar measure called the Collections of Information Anti-Piracy bill in 1998. They are trying again with H.R. 3261 to get from Congress what they could not win in the courts.
The jackpot may be in medical databases, which are still largely secret. The next time you want an itemization of why a brief hospital stay costs far more than the most luxurious hotel, remember that medical procedure codes and reimbursement rates are not freely published.
The American Medical Association claims to own these federally required codes, reaping tens of millions of dollars in royalty fees from them. You can go on the Internet and find the price of almost anything, from a plane ticket to an automobile, but the AMA will sue anyone who dares to post the billing codes and rates for simple medical procedures.
Giving new powers to the federal courts to police the use and exchange of information collected in databases would have a negative effect on an already shaky economy. What's more, creating federally mandated ownership of data is the wrong way to go if we still believe in free enterprise.
Nor is H.R. 3261 the right way to go if we believe that the federal government should exercise only enumerated powers. It's clear the Constitution does not authorize Congress to create property rights beyond those specified in the Copyright Clause.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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