Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, February 15, 2008

Another source of OA law

PreCYdent is a new OA database and search engine for primary sources in law, now available in alpha.  (Thanks to Robert J. Ambrogi via Bonnie Shucha.)  From the about page:

PreCYdent is based on two fundamental principles. First, we at PreCYdent believe that all lawyers, law librarians, law students, and the general public should have access to state-of-the-art search technology to help them navigate through the large and complex body of legal authority....Second, we believe judicial opinions and statutes must be in the public domain, in practice as well as in theory. To us this means that effective legal research in all of these materials should be free to the user -- not expensive, not inexpensive. Free. We believe this principle is of vital importance not only to the United States, but to all nations that practice or aspire to practice the rule of law.

PreCYdent search technology ranks results by "authority", using mathematical techniques, such as eigenvector centrality, similar to those used by advanced Web search engines, as well as proprietary techniques we have developed that are specialized to the legal domain. PreCYdent search technology is able to mine the information latent in the "Web of Law", the network of citations among legal authorities. This means it is also able to retrieve legally relevant authorities, even if the search terms do not actually occur or occur frequently in the retrieved document.

This alpha version contains only U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Court of Appeals cases. We are working hard on extending our service to cover all U.S. federal and state cases and statutory materials.

But we want to go further the simple search. You can contribute and participate directly in our effort and our campaign. On our web site you can register and upload any kind of legal document, including judicial opinions that are in the public domain.

From an interview last month with founder Tom Smith:

...[T]he PreCYdent algorithm outperforms by a wide margin in search recall and precision (standard measures in the industry) the Westlaw natural language search engine, which is clearly the natural language search engine to beat in the industry. This means that if you were to ask an expert to list the top 20 cases he would want to see in response to a five-word query in a "Google-style" search, you would be a lot more likely to find a number of those cases in the first 20 PreCYdent search results than in the Westlaw natural language results....

You may notice that the site has ads in the margins. This is because our plan is to make all US federal and state law available free to users, and to generate revenue by advertising.  We believe legal materials in the public domain ought to be public in practice as well as in theory, and to us that means available free and with effective search to anybody with an internet connection. We believe this model is commercially viable, but we also think it will make American and later other law available to interested persons all over the world, and promote the spread of the rule of law....

We are very interested in vendor-neutral citation systems, and that is on our to do list. You may also notice various Web 2.0 features of the site, such as tagging and rating of cases. We believe users may contribute useful content to a site such as ours....

Also see the FAQ.