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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Internet Archive offers to host PACER in perpetuity FOR FREE!

This is an amazing offer from Brewster Kahle and the internet Archive. Kahle just wrote a letter to the House Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Committee on the Judiciary stating unequivocally that they will “archive and host — for free, forever, and without restriction on access to the public — all records contained in PACER.” The “Public Access to Court Electronic Records” or PACER system is the supposedly publicly accessible system of federal court records that charges exorbitant fees to download, thus making it for all intents and purposes blocking meaningful access to federal court records. But with this letter, the whole system could become actually accessible, for free and in perpetuity!

By this submission, tile Internet Archive would like to clearly state to the Judiciary Committee, as well as to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and the Judicial Conference of the United States, that we would be delighted to archive and host — for free, forever, and without restriction on access to the public — all records contained in PACER…

In order to recognize the vision of universal free access to public court records, the Federal Judiciary would essentially have to do nothing. We are experts at “crawling” online databases in an efficient and careful fashion that does not burden those systems. We are already able to comprehensively crawl PACER from a technical perspective, but the resulting fees would be astronomical. The Federal Judiciary has a Memorandum of Understanding with both the Executive Office for us Trustees and with the Government Printing Office that gives each entity no-fee access for the public benefit. The collection we would provide to the public would be far more comprehensive than the GPO’s current court opinion program- although I must laud that program for providing a digitally-authenticated collection of many opinions.

By making federal judicial dockets available in this manner, the Federal Judiciary would enable free and unlimited public access to all records that exist in PACER, finally living up to the name of the program. In today’s world, public access means access on the Internet. Public access also means that people can work with big data without having to pass a cash register for each document.

The OpenGov Foundation wrote just released their “Statement on Internet Archive Offer to Deliver Free and Perpetual Public Access to PACER” in which they said:

“The vital public information in PACER is the property of the American people. Public information, from laws to court records, should never be locked away behind paywalls, never be stashed behind arbitrary barriers and never be covered in artificial restrictions. Forcing Americans to pay hard-earned money to access public court records is no better than forcing them to pay a poll tax.

“The Internet Archive’s offer to archive and deliver unrestricted public access to PACER for free and forever is the best possible Valentine’s Day gift to the American people. The Internet Archive is proposing a cost-effective and innovative public-private partnership that will finally fix a clear injustice. There is no reason to do anything but accept this offer in a heartbeat.”

Aaron’s Law is back in Congress


Companion bipartisan bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). The legislation was inspired by the late Internet innovator and activist Aaron Swartz, who faced up to 35 years in prison for an act of civil disobedience. Senator Wyden said:

“Violating a smartphone app’s terms of service or sharing academic articles should not be punished more harshly than a government agency hacking into Senate files,” [apparently referring to a CIA report acknowledging it infiltrated Senate computers]. “The CFAA is so inconsistently and capriciously applied it results in misguided, heavy-handed prosecution. Aaron’s Law would curb this abuse while still preserving the tools needed to prosecute malicious attacks.”

Aaron Swartz documentary “The Internet’s Own Boy” is available for CC-licensed preorder

Aaron Swartz. Photo Credit: Noah Berger “The Internet’s Own Boy,” Brian Knappenberger’s award-winning, acclaimed documentary about Aaron Swartz, will be in theaters around the country in the next few weeks and is also available to pre-order as a Creative Commons-licensed (CC-BY-NC-SA) video download. You can stream the movie for $7 from most platforms, and for $10, you can buy it from Vimeo as a shareable, remixable download. Please consider purchasing the documentary for your library. You won’t regret it. Aaron’s message and story remain extremely important and impactful to the future of the internet, access to public information and publicly funded scientific knowledge.

The Internet’s Own Boy – Trailer from FilmBuff on Vimeo.

    Wait! Don’t digitize and discard!

    Some libraries, library organizations, and library managements believe they can “manage” their collections better by first digitizing historic collections of books and other paper and ink information sources and then weeding their collections of these materials. Such projects will reduce the number of copies held in the aggregate by all libraries (Lavoie, Schonfeld, Schottlaender, Yano). One problem that these projects often overlook is the subtle (and not so subtle) differences between the legal standing of paper and digital objects with regard to access and use. Too often, creators of digital objects attempt to impose copyright restrictions on the digital objects even if the originals were in the public domain. Additionally, digital objects are often encumbered with licenses and technological restrictions that limit how they can be used and who can use them. The digital objects are often just not as accessible or as usable as the original print. How bad would it be if we threw away our print collections in favor of digital collections that are less accessible and less usable?

    Randal C. Picker, who is Leffmann Professor of Commercial Law and Senior Fellow at the The Computation Institute of the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory University of Chicago Law School, has written a paper and created a presentation on just this issue.

    In the paper, he considers how legal issues affect digitization projects such as The Internet Archive, JSTOR, Google Book Search, HathiTrust, and THOMAS.

    His take-aways from the presentation are:

    1. Access rights and use rights are different animals and operate in different legal settings.
    2. Even though the public domain is coming online, the financing models for the projects will result in efforts to restrict use ina variety of ways.
    3. Those efforts will be situated at the intersection of technology controls, contract, terms of use, copyright and the CFAA (Computer Fraud and Abuse Act).
    4. Perhaps a truly public public domain, something like the DPLA perhaps, is required to avoid the path of non-copyright control over the public domain.

    Hat Tip: ARL Policy Notes.


    Lavoie, Brian F., Constance Malpas, and J.D. Shipengrover. 2012. Print Management at “Mega-scale”: a Regional Perspective on Print Book Collections in North America. Dublin, OH: OCLC Research. http://www.oclc.org/research/publications/library/2012/2012-05.pdf (Accessed July 19, 2012).

    Schonfeld, Roger C., and Ross Housewright. 2009. 28 What to Withdraw: Print Collections Management in the Wake of Digitization. Ithaka S+R. http://www.sr.ithaka.org/research-publications/what-withdraw-print-collections-management-wake-digitization.

    Schottlaender, Brian E.C. et al. 2004. 82 Collection Management Strategies In A Digital Environment, A Project Of The Collection Management Initiative Of The University Of California Libraries, Final Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. University of California, Office of the President, Office of Systemwide Library Planning. http://www.ucop.edu/cmi/finalreport/index.html.

    Yano, Candace Arai, Z.J. Max Shen, and Stephen Chan. 2008. Optimizing the Number of Copies for Print Preservation of Research Journals. Berkeley, CA: University of California Berkeley, Industrial Engineering & Operations Research. http://www.ieor.berkeley.edu/~shen/webpapers/V.8.pdf.

    Aaron Swartz to be awarded ALA’s James Madison Award. Ceremony streamed live

    [Update 3/15/13: Here’s the ALA announcement.]

    It was just announced that Aaron Swartz will be awarded the American Library Association’s James Madison Award awarded annually to “honor individuals or groups who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s “right to know” on the national level.” It is fitting that Aaron win the award — and be presented by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), a strong advocate for digital rights in Congress who won the award last year and who introduced Aaron’s Law to try and amend the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

    The ceremony will be webcast live tomorrow (Friday March 15, 2013) at 8:30am eastern time. We’ll post the video as soon as its made available.