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

Carl Malamud of Public.resource.org has just made yet another startling announcement that should be a boon for legal scholars, information junkies and advocates of free and openly accessible government information. Starting in early 2008, because of the deal the Malamud and his law ninjas at the Electronic Frontier Foundation have struck with Fastcase, Inc., a large swath of federal case law and Supreme Court decisions will be released into the public domain under a Creative Commons license. As the news release states, the 1.8 million pages of law will be integrated into the ongoing public services from organizations such as Columbia University AltLaw 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) and Cornell School of Law’s Legal Information Institute

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.

And what’s even cooler is that they’re going to wikify it!!

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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1 Comment

  1. We do have to understand that since the mid-90’s, decisions of the US Courts of Appeals and the US Supreme Court have been available on the Web through web sites operated by courts and law schools – as well as on the CD-Rom’s HyperLaw pioneered during that time. Also, both West and Lexis provide free searches to the public of these database, or at least in recent years through Lexis One and Findlaw.

    What has been the real issue since the early 90’s is the absence of comprehensive access to the decisions of the 93 US District Courts and the 93 US Bankruptcy Courts.

    So, although the headline is cool, (and I was excited by the headline) this really is not much of a step forward if one looks at the real state of affairs.

    This is one more portal to material that is already largely available – and, it may become a little easier to access.

    I would rather see the Judicial Conference and the Administrative Office of US Courts do their job and make this information available seamlessly, and comply with the spirit and letter of the E-Government Act of 2002.

    I would also like to see these new portals focus on a basic functional need in the real world of real lawyers and consumers of this information : using Google and other search engines to quickly retrieve the text of a known opinion using some or all of the following information: case name, court, docket number, date, etc.

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