The Bluebook and Baby Blue – Two Approaches to Copyright and Legal Citation

Every law student in America is familiar with “The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation.” Produced by the Harvard Law Review Association, this manual establishes the arcane citation rules attorneys must use when filing documents in court. Although Harvard (along with Columbia, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania) insists the entire manual and method of citation is protected by copyright, the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law and Policy at New York University begs to differ. While the argument up until now has been that the court-mandated use of the citation format converts the citation method itself into an edict of government and therefore part of the public domain, the Engelberg Center has found a new approach to the dispute in its October 6th letter to the Harvard Law Review Association: “[O]ur research has established that the copyright on the 10th edition of The Bluebook, published in 1958, was never renewed. As a consequence, the 10th edition is in the public domain. Public Resource will thus publish an electronic version of the 10th Edition.”

The legal question of whether the citation method contained in The Bluebook is a government edict is rather thorny, but one thing is clear: the debate has been taken to the next level. Public Resource has already released a scanned version of the 10th edition, and the Engelberg Center asserts that the unprotected status of the 10th edition casts doubt on the copyright protection claimed for the current (19th) edition.

“Many portions of the 19th edition are identical to or only trivially dissimilar from public domain material contained in the 10th edition. Other portions of the 19th edition are comprised either of material entirely outside the scope of copyright, or material which merges with the system of citation that The Bluebook represents. These portions of the 19th edition are likewise available for public use.”

With this in mind, the Engelberg Center is joining with Public Resource to publish “Baby Blue,” a public domain version of The Bluebook’s system of citation. While the internecine debate continues, one has to wonder if the editors of the upcoming 20th edition will get ex-cited.


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