Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, February 11, 2008

OA to more US case law

1.8 Million Pages of U.S. Case Law Available Now for Developers, No Restrictions on Reuse, a press release from Public.Resource.Org and Creative Commons, February 11, 2008.  Excerpt:

Creative Commons and Public.Resource.Org announced today that the first revision of a substantial corpus of U.S. federal case law is available for download by developers. The files are all clearly marked with the new Creative Commons CCØ label, indicating that the contents are Works of the United States Government and are thus free of copyright or other restrictions for their dissemination and reuse.

Developers may access this information [here]....

Today’s release covers all U.S. Supreme Court decisions and all Courts of Appeals decisions from 1950 on. The release is equivalent to 1,858 volumes of case law in book form, a stack of books 348 feet tall....

The source of this case law is a transaction previously announced with Fastcase, Inc....

Purchase of this valuable data was made possible by generous donations from a group that includes the Omidyar Network and several individuals including David Boies, the Elbaz Family Foundation, and John Gilmore.

David Boies, whose distinguished career includes service as Special Trial Counsel for the US Department of Justice in its antitrust suit against Microsoft, and who represented former Vice President Al Gore in connection with litigation relating to the Florida vote count in the 2000 election, had this to say:

Practical access for all Americans to legal cases and material is essential to the rule of law. The Legal Commons is an important step in reducing the barriers to effective representation of average citizens and public interest advocates.

The data from Fastcase is one of several sources emerging for unrestricted case law. William S. Hein & Co. has contributed high-quality scans of the 30 volumes of the Federal Cases, which are the earliest records of the courts before the Federal Reporter was created. Justia, Inc. has contributed over 50,000 “PACER” documents, which include the current decisions of district courts.

The cases made available to developers today will be used throughout the Internet. For example, the AltLaw service from Columbia and Colorado Law Schools has announced they will incorporate the information in their free service. Creative Commons and Public.Resource.Org are donating a copy of the data to the U.S. Courts and the Government Printing Office for their archives. A number of commercial legal research providers have announced they will also incorporate this data in their services....

The Fastcase transaction is the first of a series of initiatives to be announced in the upcoming months with a goal of creating a distributed, sustainable, unencumbered system for accessing the law....

This initial release of the data will undergo a 30-day Request for Comment period, during which the XML format, the CSS markup, the SHA1 signatures, and other aspects of the formatting and packaging will be discussed and tested. Additional enhancements scheduled for subsequent releases including citation identification and resolution and pagination.

According to Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.Org:

Developers and interested members of the public are invited to join our open discussion group which will evaluate the format of this public domain data. These cases and codes are America’s operating system and for the first time Americans can use them with freedom.

PS:  For examples, see the new Legal Commons editions of the Federal Reporter 2d (vols. 178-999), Federal Reporter 3d (vols. 1-491), and US Reports (vols. 1-546).  For background, see the first announcement of the PRO-Fastcase project back on November 14, 2007.  Kudos to PRO, CC, and Fastcase for this invaluable service.  Developers and users interested in bulk downloads should see the readme file.