It can be difficult to keep up with the folks at Public.Resource.Org and their efforts to put as much law as possible into the public domain. I’ve written before about their successes in putting caselaw in the public domain. The latest release, Codes.gov, publishes critical state and municipal public safety codes from all across the [...]
TAG | public domain
Efforts by Justia and Public.Resource.Org to overturn Oregon’s claim of copyright in its statutes paid off today. Oregon’s Legislative Counsel Committee met this morning and voted unanimously to put the Oregon Revised Statutes in the public domain. Tim Stanley has the news. Background on the Oregon issue is available from Public.Resource.Org.
The launch of the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School in 1992 was the first giant step towards making legal information available to the public via the Internet. A year later, inspired by Cornell’s LII, the Canadian LII was born. Today, there are 14 Legal Information Institutes throughout the world. A new, 19-minute video traces the history of these LIIs through revealing interviews with their founders and staff. It was produced by CanLII. Tom Bruce, director of the Cornell LII, has posted them on YouTube in three parts:
I’ve had several posts in recent months about various efforts to move caselaw into the public domain and, once there, to make it more accessible. I also had a recent article about this in Law Technology News, Online Legal Research Revolution. Now, some updates:
- IT Conversations interviews Carl Malamud, the man behind Public.Resource.Org and a long-time crusader to bring public information out of the darkness.
- David Hobbie at his blog Caselines puts public-domain search engine PreCYdent to the test and “was stunned” by the results. “I have never seen such a highly relevant set of search results on any electronic case search engine. Not in Westlaw. Not in Lexis. Not anywhere.”
- Meanwhile, PreCYdent has moved from alpha to beta with a release it describes as more stable. Its recent newsletter (sent to everyone who registers) says it is working hard to extend its database to all state jurisdictions. It has also added a Government Printing Office archive of 1.3 million documents and a database of legal forms.
My post yesterday, Case Law Libre!, pointed to the registration-required Law Technology News version of the article. Today, Law.com posted it on the Legal Technology page, where no registration is required.
Also, I heard today from Thomas Smith, the University of San Diego School of Law professor who serves as CEO of the experiment legal search engine PreCYdent, which I discuss in the article. I wrote that PreCYdent “came about through the work” of Smith. He corrects me:
“I should note that my work on PreCYdent has been but a small fraction of the work done by Antonio and his team in Italy. I had a notion that something like the technology they created could be created, but they are the ones who built it. I’m a lawyer with undergraduate degrees in philosophy and economics, not a computer scientist. So my team really deserves the credit for our search technology, which is our unique contribution. So saying that PreCYdent came about through my work, overstates my role.”
Antonio is Antonio Tomarchio, CTO of PreCYdent. I recently posted Tomarchio’s video showing how to use PreCYdent.
My latest Web Watch column for Law Technology News magazine, Case Law Libre (free reg. required), looks at several recent projects to move case law into the public domain, from Public.Resource.Org to Alt-Law to PreCYdent. Here are the opening grafs:
“Feb. 11, 2008 was a day that may forever change the course of online legal research. On that day, the non-profit Public.Resource. Org published 1.8 million pages of federal case law online, free of copyright or other restrictions. The release included all U.S. Supreme Court cases and all federal circuit decisions since 1950.
“Ever since 1872, when John West hit upon the idea of building a business around publishing court decisions, commercial publishers have maintained a firm hold on the dissemination of judicial opinions. Not to knock them — legal publishers filled an essential niche and continue to provide valuable and necessary products.
“But in this information age, private control over the distribution of public case law seems anachronistic. For nearly two decades, gradual progress has been made towards greater public access. But the Public.Resource.Org release is just one of several developments whose convergence suggests that this trend is accelerating.”
The day we previewed here last week has arrived: The non-profit organization Public.Resource.Org today released 1.8 million pages of federal case law free of copyright or other restrictions, in a joint venture with Creative Commons. The release includes all Supreme Court cases and all Courts of Appeals decisions from 1950 on. According to the press announcement, the data is available for download by developers for use on the Internet.
“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 announcement said that the purchase of the data was made possible by contributions from a group that includes the Omidyar Network, the Elbaz Family Foundation, entrepreneur and civil libertarian John Gilmore and lawyer David Boies.
Although the cases can be browsed through the Public.Resource.org site, there is no direct mechanism for searching them. As Google begins to index them over the next few days, you should be able to search using its “search this site” function.
I reported here in November that 1.8 million pages of federal case law would go public early in 2008 through an agreement between Carl Malamud’s nonprofit organization Public.Resource.Org and the legal research company Fastcase. Today, Malamud said the release of those cases is scheduled for next week. The release will include all cases included with the U.S. Reports, all federal appellate cases in the F.3d series of the Federal Reporter and most of F.2d. All cases will be formatted in XML with digital signatures and public domain labels. Malamud also said that two other companies have made substantial donations of case law to be added to the public domain database, Justia and William S. Hein & Co.
I can barely keep up with the efforts of Carl Malamud and his public.resource.org to “liberate” government documents. (See 1.8M Pages of Federal Case Law to Go Public and More Government Docs to Go on Web.) The latest project: Recycle Your Used Pacer Documents!. PACER, of course, is the federal judiciary’s system for obtaining case and docket information electronically. The acronym stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records, but that public access comes with a catch — a registration requirement and a user fee of 8 cents per page.
The folks at public.resource.org believe that PACER’s registration requirement and fees create needless obstacles to public access. The idea behind this site is to provide a way for PACER users to upload and share the documents they download from PACER, making them available to others without cost. The site’s operators will review the uploads and post them in bulk.resource.org for future use. (They do this manually, they say, so don’t expect your uploads to appear immediately.) Once added to the system, documents are listed by court and then by docket number. It appears to be searchable on at least a limited basis using Google’s search-this-site feature (e.g.: “site:bulk.resource.org queryterm queryterm”).
I wrote here in November about plans by Public.Resource.Org to publish 1.8 million pages of public-domain federal case law sometime this year and its goal of eventually creating a public-domain repository of all federal and state case law. More recently, in an article of mine published on Law.com, I singled out Public.Resource.Org and a similar project, AltLaw, as among the five most notable legal sites of 2007.
Now, a parallel project aims to bring to this growing body of public-domain law a sophisticated search engine comparable to those of commercial legal databases. In fact, the developers of this experimental legal search engine, called PreCYdent, say their tests outperform “by a wide margin” Westlaw natural language search, not to mention Lexis and other commercial databases.
The site is up and running in an alpha version containing about 340,000 cases, with a beta launch planned for the end of February. It came about through the work of University of San Diego School of Law Professor Thomas A. Smith, who serves as its CEO. Smith and the other members of the PreCYdent team say they base their work on two fundamental beliefs: that judicial opinions and statutes must be in the public domain, and that everyone — lawyers, students and the public — should have access to state-of-the-art legal research technology. “The site is free and will stay that way,” Smith wrote me in an e-mail. The service will rely on ads to generate revenue.
The power of PreCYdent’s search engine comes from its ranking of results by “authority,” using a propriety algorithm to analyze connections within networks of data similar in concept to Google and its PageRank technology. Here is how the Web site explains it:
“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.”
Smith describes the development and mechanics of PreCYdent in greater detail in an interview with Joe Hodnicki published yesterday at Law Librarian Blog. Smith’s initial research that formed the genesis of the project is described in his 2005 article, The Web of Law.
PreCYdent’s developers are incorporating a number of Web 2.0 features. The site already allows users to add commentary, recommendations and ratings to cases. Smith writes:
“Coming soon is a social network platform that will interface seamlessly (or pretty seamlessly) with the law library and search. This will enable people to find lawyers and lawyers and laypeople to share knowledge and experience. An upload feature will allow users to upload all kinds of documents, such as briefs, memos, videos, audio, and so on. All of this will be parsed by us, put into our network, and be searchable and ranked by our engine.”
I performed various top-of-the-mind searches today — nothing too sophisticated — and was impressed by the relevance and ranking of results. The default ranking is by authority, so if there are relevant Supreme Court cases, they tend to appear at the top. Advanced search options allow you to modify the ranking to be chronological or “traditional” and to limit your search by date, court and judge. Cases include citations and page numbers. Once Public.Resource.Org publishes the cases mentioned at the outset of this post, PreCYdent will add them to its database.