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Archives of Appellate and Supreme Court Decisions To Be Made Available Free
Wednesday, November 14 2007 @ 08:17 PM EST

My dream appears to be coming true. Public.Resource.Org and Fastcase are announcing the release next year of all Court of Appeals decisions from 1950 to the present and all Supreme Court decisions since 1754. And next they will work on District Court decisions and pre-1950 Appellate decisions. It'll all be Creative Commons licensed! So the archives of case law will be available in a greatly expanded form.

You can search the last decade or so of appellate and Supreme Court decisions on AltLaw now for free, but this is an incredible addition. And Fastcase provides a paid service now for a flat monthly fee of $95. But we are talking free as in beer now, something everyone can access, regardless of their means. It's my dream.

I'm sort of holding my breath, worrying that some old-fashioned dope may yet try to ruin this, but if they can pull it off, it will be absolutely thrilling. I know that services like Lexis and Westlaw will still be very useful, as they provide services that just the rulings do not, so I don't see this impacting them at all. But it sure will impact the world's available knowledge.

EFF is representing Public.Resource.Org. Thank you to everyone trying to make legal documents openly available to us little people. We need it in an Internet age just as much as lawyers do.

As long as I'm thanking people, here are the folks to thank for AltLaw:

AltLaw is a joint project of Columbia Law School’s Program on Law and Technology, and the Silicon Flatirons Program at the University of Colorado Law School. AltLaw was written by Stuart Sierra and Paul Ohm, with help from Luis Villa, and produced by Tim Wu.

You are invited to help work on AltLaw also. Code, ideas, skills.

The Legal Information Institute is a free service that we use here all the time, whenever I want to show you US Code, like the Bankruptcy Code we are learning about now with SCO. But what I didn't realize is that although it's connected to Cornell Law School, it depends on donations to keep going. So here is the page about LII, and if you wish to donate to LII, go here. I see you can even sponsor a particular page. That'd be cool. To have your name up in lights for something like that.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know there is progress. And no, this will not put Groklaw out of "business". We'll still be friends. You'll still need to know What It All Means in real life cases. And they aren't a bit funny.

: )

Here's the announcement from Public.Resource.Org and Fastcase.

***************************

Announcement

1.8 million pages of federal case law to become freely available.

WASHINGTON, D.C. / SEBASTOPOL, CA—November 14, 2007—Public.Resource.Org and Fastcase, Inc. announced today that they will release a large and free archive of federal case law, including all Courts of Appeals decisions from 1950 to the present and all Supreme Court decisions since 1754. The archive will be public domain and usable by anyone for any purpose.

“The U.S. judiciary has allowed their entire work product to be locked up behind a cash register,” said Carl Malamud, CEO of Public.Resource.Org. “Law is the operating system of our society and today's agreement means anybody can read the source for a substantial amount of case law that was previously unavailable.”

Fastcase, the leading developer of next-generation American legal research, has agreed to provide Public.Resource.Org with 1.8 million pages of federal case law. This is a marked departure for the online legal research industry, which traditionally has charged expensive subscription fees to access this information.

“For eight years, Fastcase has been ahead of the market curve, working to democratize access to the law,” said Ed Walters, CEO of Fastcase, Inc. “At the same time, we have been advancing the science of search, combining the precision of traditional legal research with the simplicity of Web-based searches.”

Fastcase has reversed the traditional subscription model for lawyers, contracting directly with 11 state bar associations to make the national law library free for lawyers in their states. “Through this agreement with Public.Resource.Org, we are proud to expand our efforts beyond lawyers, and to make more of the law available to the general public at no cost,” Walters said.

The agreement calls for definitive paperwork approved by both parties within 30 days with Public.Resource.Org making developer snapshots of the archive available in early 2008. Public.Resource.Org is represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in this transaction. The cases will be marked with a new Creative Commons mark—CC-Ø—that signals that there are no copyrights or other related rights attached to the content.

This transaction represents a one-time purchase of a copy of data. This corpus will be integrated into the ongoing public services from organizations such as AltLaw and the Legal Information Institute, thus providing continuity of coverage into the future. Further announcements will be forthcoming on the availability of other case law, including Federal District and pre-1949 Appellate decisions.

Public.Resource.Org intends to perform an initial transformation on the federal case law archive obtained from Fastcase using open source “star” mapping software, which will allow the insertion of markers that will approximate page breaks based on user-furnished parameters such as page size, margins, and fonts. “Wiki” technology will be used to allow the public to move around these “star” markers, as well as add summaries, classifications, keywords, alternate numbering systems for citation purposes, and ratings or “diggs” on opinions.


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