Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Manifesto for OA to legal info

Ian Gallacher, Aux Armes, Citoyens!:' Time for Law Schools to Lead the Movement for Free and Open Access to the Law, a preprint self-archived November 28, 2007.  Gallacher teaches at the Syracuse University College of Law.  (Thanks to Lawrence Solum.)

Abstract:   This article is a manifesto that outlines the principles of the open access to legal information movement and sounds a call to action for law schools to become leaders in that movement. The article surveys the present legal information environment, reviews the development of computer-assisted legal information and the long-term future of book-based legal research, and discusses the problems inherent in a system where two large 'information resource' corporations control access to legal information. After considering the need for open access to the law for pro se litigants, scholars from outside the legal academy, and practicing lawyers, after considering and rejecting courts and legislators as viable guarantors of open access, and with the model of the clinical legal community's tradition of engaged scholarship as an example, the article concludes that America's law schools have both the opportunity and obligation to provide an alternative to the commercial legal information sites and make America's law freely available to all. The article ends with a series of proposed principles that might guide such an open-access legal information site.

From the body of the paper:

The bedrock principle of an open access legal information site is that it be free and accessible to everyone, not just those who have a professional interest in the information, who live in this country, or who can afford to pay for it: access to American legal information should not be limited by economic status, geographical location, or any other barriers....

Yet for all the innovation and change that has occurred, the internet has not changed the way in which legal information is made available, and American legal information is still the hostage of commercial interests. The large commercial vendors are being challenged by smaller upstart companies offering services like Fastcase and Versuslaw, but they are really only offering alternative versions of the same thing; the law is still being treated as a commodity to be bundled, sold, and profited from rather than being offered free to the citizenry that has already paid once for it through taxation....