Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, August 20, 2007

Carl Malamud strikes again, this time at judicial opinions

John Markoff, A Quest to Get More Court Rulings Online, and Free, New York Times, August 20, 2007.  (Thanks to Mel DeSart.)  Excerpt:

The domination of two legal research services over the publication of federal and state court decisions is being challenged by an Internet gadfly who has embarked on an ambitious project to make more than 10 million pages of case law available free online.

The project is the latest effort of Carl Malamud, an activist who founded in March, with the broad intent of building “public works” accessible via the network, and with the specific plan to force the federal government to make information more publicly accessible.

Last week, Mr. Malamud began using advanced computer scanning technology to copy decisions, which have been available only in law libraries or via subscription from the Thomson West unit of the Canadian publishing conglomerate Thomson, and LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier, based in London. The two companies control the bulk of the nearly $5 billion legal publishing market....

He has placed the first batch of 1,000 pages of court decisions from the 1880s online at the site. He obtained the documents from a used Thomson microfiche, he said.

Mr. Malamud, who is a self-styled Robin Hood of the information age, has confounded executives and administrators at organizations as diverse as the Smithsonian Institution, the House of Representatives and the Commerce Department by asserting the public’s right to government information and then proceeding to digitize it and place it in the public domain.

“I don’t mind people making billions,” Mr. Malamud said, “but I hate barriers to entry.” ...

In a letter to West Publishing last Wednesday, Mr. Malamud said his intent was to make federal and state court decisions available to a population that cannot afford the subscription costs.

Legal codes and cases are the “operating system” of the nation, he said. “The system only works if we can all openly read the primary sources,” he said in the letter. “It is crucial that the public domain data be available for anybody to build upon.”

John Shaughnessy, a spokesman for Thomson, said: “We have received the letter from Public Resource and Mr. Malamud raises a number of interesting but complex points. We are looking at them now and then will be in touch directly with Mr. Malamud.” ...