Carl Malamud’s nonprofit organization Public.Resource.Org and the legal research company Fastcase today announced an agreement that will allow Public.Resource.Org to publish 1.8 million pages of federal case law in the public domain. The archive, which will become available sometime in 2008, will include all U.S. courts of appeals decisions since 1950 and all Supreme Court decisions since 1754. I wrote in August about Malamud’s charge to crash the Wexis gate with his plan to create a public-domain repository of all case law, federal and state, and I first wrote about him a decade ago in recognition of his work to bring the SEC’s EDGAR database to the public. In today’s statement, he said:

“The U.S. judiciary has allowed their entire work product to be locked up behind a cash register. Law is the operating system of our society and today’s agreement means anybody can read the source for a substantial amount of case law that was previously unavailable.”

Notably, this public-domain database will come about with the cooperation of a for-profit legal research company. Fastcase has agreed to sell this case law in a one-time transaction that will allow Public.Resource.Org to use it. The cases will be marked with a new Creative Commons mark — CC-Ø — that signals that there are no copyrights or other related rights attached to the content.

Once it receives the cases, Public.Resource.Org will format them using open source “star” mapping software, which will allow the insertion of markers that will approximate page breaks based on user-furnished parameters such as page size, margins, and fonts. “Wiki” technology will be used to allow the public to move around these markers, as well as add summaries, classifications, keywords, alternate numbering systems for citation purposes, and ratings or “diggs” on opinions.

Going forward, new cases will be added to the database through organizations that already make cases publicly available, such as AltLaw and the Legal Information Institute.

Today’s announcement said that further news “will be forthcoming on the availability of other case law, including Federal District and pre-1949 Appellate decisions.”

  • Anonymous

    The guy is going a bit far when he claims the content was previously “unavailable.” Any public law school will have a law library; go in there and read all the decisions you want. Many courts have free public libraries as well.

  • Matthew Whitten

    Now only is it completely false that the material was previously unavailable, these “case law” documents are anything but that. Every document that had a Pacer number that I saw was simply a Memorandum Opinion or a quick ruling on a petition from a prisoner. These have been provided free of charge by the department of justice website for years, and it appears that they have simply been downloaded, indexed in a confusing way that cannot be easily accessed (have to keep going back and clicking three times just to get one document…I’d rather pay the .10 for Pacer).

    This site is a con. It mixes in some old texts opinions that appear as if the were simply copied off of Westlaw or Lexis. In addition, the value of Pacer is that it had the DEFENDANT’s court documents, so one can review motions, petitions, etc…from defense attorneys to compile a brief bank or examples of motions. I didn’t see ONE document that was filed by a defendant, or even one that was in response and filed by a plaintiff (or vice versa). These were all judiciary rulings, and none of them went back earlier than like 2005. That information is available alaready.

    In addition, for some reason, there’s a bunch of Google ebooks thrown in there. Now, why in the world would we want a poorly organized batch of Google ebooks when we can have a well organized, cataloged library of the same works from Google?

    I know bullshit when I see it. I understand Pacer is expensive…I use it, I know the cost. One complete “case”
    (which consists of ALL the documents filed as well as the court’s opinion…at least that’s what real attorneys are referring to when they say a “case…”) can cost over $100 if the defendant filed a lot of motions. But at least you can search Pacer, and at least you know what you are looking for. I see no benefit in a bunch of computer code wrapped around some random numbers that you have to click 30 times before you get to a piece of shit pdf that you could have gotten much easier.

    I picture one maybe two people running these sites…they probably have limited access to free Lexis and Westlaw subscriptions through their school or somehting like that, so they downloaded everything they could for several weeks, then put up a web site and made some phony letters to make it look like they got all the “secret documents” that the government didn’t want us to see. Please.