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Report: PACER Federal Court Record Fees Exceed System Costs

Here’s a disturbing report about PACER — the Public Access to Court Electronic Records — published yesterday by California Watch, the CA arm of the Center for Investigative Reporting:

“PACER Federal Court Record Fees Exceed System Costs”. Shane Shifflett and Jennifer Gollan, California Watch.

While the report notes that Senator Lieberman and AALL have been trying to persuade the Administrative Office of the US Courts, it should also be noted that other library associations have been in on this fight for quite a while including the Depository Library Council to the US Public Printer and ALA’s Government Documents Round Table (GODORT).

Along with official calls for free access to US court documents, there’s also been a grassroots effort to wrest control of these public domain documents in the form of RECAP (that’s PACER backwards ;-)), a firefox plugin built by the fine folks at the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) at Princeton University. The plugin automatically donates purchased PACER documents into a public repository hosted by the Internet Archive. Perhaps this report along with official calls from politicians and librarians will be enough to finally get the Administrative Office of the US Courts to fix PACER and offer free access to US Court documents as it should be!


The federal government has collected millions from the online Public Access to Court Electronic Records system, or PACER – nearly five times what it cost to run the system.

Between fiscal years 2006 and 2010, the government collected an average of $77 million a year from PACER fees, according to the most recent federal figures available…

In recent years, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and the American Association of Law Libraries, which represents 5,000 law librarians nationwide, have tried without success to persuade the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and members of Congress to provide free access to PACER records.

Earlier this year, the Center for Investigative Reporting, parent organization of The Bay Citizen, applied for a limited exemption from PACER fees to research potential judicial conflicts in California. Such fee waivers are typically given to academics and nonprofits “to avoid unreasonable burdens and to promote public access to information.” CIR is a nonprofit organization.

[HT to Gary Price at InfoDocket for alerting us to this report!]

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