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Friday, June 19, 2009

Wikisource as a repository

Tim Armstrong, Using Wikisource as an Alternative Open Access Repository for Legal Scholarship, Info/Law, June 19, 2009.  Excerpt:

I delivered my “Crowdsourcing and Open Access” presentation earlier today at CALICon09....

There are plenty of sites in the world that aim to serve as repositories for legal scholarship. Some of them are run by particular law schools and serve to advertise scholarship produced by that institution’s faculty. Others, like SSRN, aggregate scholarship from a variety of sources. Wikisource differs from all of them in that its mission is broader: Wikisource doesn’t want to be a scholarly archive, it wants to be a library. The very breadth and generality of that objective, however, gives Wikisource some advantages as an open-access repository that I don’t think have been adequately explored elsewhere.

To illustrate the point, I put my recent piece on the DMCA up on Wikisource.  Here it is: Fair Circumvention, 74 Brook. L. Rev. 1 (2008). The Wikisource version, I think, improves in a number of interesting ways over the PDF version available at SSRN.

  • It includes the full text of the article, searchable, indexable, and cut-and-pasteable, on a single web page. All of which makes the article more useable and easier to find by people (including legal generalists, who might not be acquainted with SSRN) who are doing research in this area. The text is indexed by Google.
  • Wikilinks to primary source materials make it easy to verify the research. If I have mischaracterized, say, the (in)famous Universal City Studios v. Reimerdes DeCSS case, you can find out easily, because Reimerdes is also on Wikisource, just a click away. Most of the statutes cited in the piece are available, too. As more primary source authorities are added to the site, the number of links from the article can also grow. Those primary source materials would be excluded from a site that aspired only to archive research; their easy accessibility on Wikisource, in contrast, makes the research better.
  • Easy authentication and pinpoint citation because the original page scans from the published version are preserved alongside the the digitized text, just a click away using the page number links that appear in the left-hand margin of the site.   (The page numbers are anchors, too, making it easy to create external links that point directly to a particular page of the article—for example, here’s p. 5).

Doing it this way entails a little extra effort, although as I tried to illustrate during my CALI talk, a certain amount of that effort can be crowdsourced. There is also a legal issue involved in ensuring that the applicable license permits the work to be hosted on Wikisource. Still, as a proof of concept, I think using Wikisource as a legal scholarship repository holds some interesting possibilities. Would be happy to hear any feedback.

Comment.  I like the idea of linking from the wiki edition to the unmodifiable pages of the published edition --what I called a "quality ratchet" when Open Medicine introduced the idea earlier this month.  I also like the idea of breaking out of PDF prison into just about any other format (but especially HTML, XML, or wiki).  Moreover, Wikisource is open to deposits from anyone, embracing scholars who don't have a repository at their institution or in their field.