James Grimmelmann is something of a rare hybrid. As a former Microsoft programmer, he's an accomplished technologist. And as a graduate of Yale Law School and an associate professor at New York Law School, he's an accomplished legal scholar. When he looks at the world of U.S. law though his technology lens, he sees enormous potential for the Internet to break down the walls keeping legal code out of the reach of the general public.
What problems in the American legal system does an "open access" approach aim to fix?
Our legal system and our laws are amazingly complex.The last thing we need is to make it even harder by keeping our laws trapped in expensive books with bad indexes....
How has the Internet changed things?
Pre-Internet, publishing and distributing law books was expensive. The executive branch alone puts out over 70,000 pages of law a year. An annual subscription to the Federal Register will run you almost $1,000 -- and they're just covering the raw printing costs. Ordinary citizens can't afford that, which means going to a library if you want to look up a single point of law somewhere in there. With the Internet, the Government Printing Office puts the whole thing online, updated daily, and you can consult it for free in seconds.
Plus, all sorts of great applications and tools are really only feasible online. What if you could click on a legal clause and it would change into a diagram showing you how the words fit together? Jump straight from any law to the most recent court decision on it? Compare the same issue across all 50 states automatically?
That's what happens when you turn loose the raw materials of law and let people combine, remix, and analyze them.
Where does your work fit into the greater (and growing) movement to make institutions from government to academia more transparent?
It's all part of the same set of efforts. Ultimately, the open access drive is the same: take advantage of the Internet to really achieve that potential while answering people's concerns. Open access is a way of looking at the world that just fills you with a sense of infinitely-renewable optimism. And generosity. And wonder.
Peter Suber at 10/15/2008 01:47:00 PM.
The open access movement:
Putting peer-reviewed scientific and scholarly literature
on the internet. Making it available free of charge and
free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.
Removing the barriers to serious research.