[The following column originally appeared in print in April 2007. I am republishing it as part of my continuing effort to maintain an archive of my published columns. Important note: I have not updated this since its original publication. While most of the sites remain as described, some may have changed. All information was current as of the date of original publication.]
When published in 1999, Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig’s book, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, earned praise from one reviewer as “paradigm-shifting.” Later, when Lessig set out to update the book, he shifted the paradigm once again.
Lessig posted the entire manuscript to a Web site where anyone could contribute edits of their own. Eventually, he took that publicly edited text, added his own edits, and, in December 2006, published the resulting work as Code v2. Soon, he will post the finished book online for readers to continue to revise. U.K. solicitor Justin Patten is taking the same approach to a book he is writing about blogging and social media, http://humanlaw.pbwiki.com.
The key word in these experiments is collaboration and the engine driving them is a type of Web site known as a wiki, a name taken from the Hawaiian word for fast. A wiki allows any Web page visitor to easily add, remove or edit content. Editing can be done quickly from within a browser and without any special knowledge of authoring formats. A wiki’s simplicity and ease of use make it an ideal tool for group projects.
The first wiki software, WikiWikiWeb, was written in 1994. But it was not until more recently that wikis saw broader use. No doubt, a driving force in their greater popularity has been the best-known wiki – the collaboratively written encyclopedia Wikipedia.
Neither are wikis new to the legal profession. Denver, Colo., lawyer John DeBruyn, for one, has been experimenting with wikis as a tool for lawyer-to-lawyer collaboration since at least 1997. But in the legal world, as elsewhere, wikis have become more widely used in the last year or two.
This month, we look at some of the innovative and intriguing ways legal professionals are using wikis.
- Civil Law Dictionary. Vicenç Feliú, law librarian at Louisiana State University, created this wiki to serve as a source of civil law terminology, particularly for common law lawyers who may not be familiar with civil law terms.
- Congresspedia. This wiki is intended to serve as a tool to research and share information about members of Congress. It launched in April 2006 with 539 articles – one for every member of Congress, the non-voting delegates, and one former representative – and invited users to build from there by adding new articles on any subjects related to Congress.
- CopyrightExperiences. Consider this wiki an attempt to strike back at unreasonable copyright restrictions imposed by law reviews and other legal publishers. The purpose is for legal academics and others to share their experiences regarding copyright requirements and model copyright agreements, all with the goal of ensuring the widest possible distribution of published works.
- Creative Commons Wiki. Home to various wiki projects related to the work of the Creative Commons organization, which provides an alternative to traditional copyright. Among the projects here is the Podcasting Legal Guide.
- Death Penalty Wiki. Started by California lawyer Mike Cernovich, co-author of the blog Crime & Federalism, this is an attempt to maintain a collaboratively edited log of death-penalty cases.
- Internet Law Treatise. Sponsored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, this is a project to maintain an open licensed, collaborative treatise summarizing the law related to the Internet. It is based on the Electronic Media and Privacy Law Handbook, which was published by the law firm Perkins Coie in December 2003.
- IPdailyupdate. This wiki features daily news stories related to intellectual property law.
- JuraWiki. One of the longer-standing wikis, it serves as a platform for cooperation among German lawyers. Some of the pages have been translated into English.
- JurisPedia. This encyclopedia of world law is a project of law schools in France, Vietnam, Netherlands, Germany and Canada. It contains more than 300 articles available in seven languages.
- Law Lib Wik. A wiki about wikis, designed for law librarians interested in using wikis for research. Its genesis was a presentation about wikis given by two law librarians, Deborah Ginsberg of Chicago-Kent College of Law and Bonnie Shucha of the University of Wisconsin Law Library.
- Lawpedia. A wiki for family law attorneys in Michigan, with articles on child custody, property division, prenuptial agreements and other topics.
- TaxAlmanac. Sponsored by the tax-software company Intuit, this wiki focuses on tax law and practice. It includes some 44,000 articles contributed by tax professionals and academics.
- Wex. From the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, this is an ambitious undertaking to create a collaboratively written legal dictionary and encyclopedia. Only those with demonstrated legal expertise are permitted to contribute.
- WikiCrimeLine. This U.K. site encourages contributors to share their knowledge of the criminal justice system. As of this writing, the wiki has nearly 2,000 pages of content.
- Wikilaw. The goal of this wiki is to develop a free legal resource for the world at large, with an initial focus on U.S. law. Not much here yet.
- Wikiocracy. What happens when you put the law in the hands of the people? That is the question underlying this site, where citizens can rewrite actual laws or create their own.
- Wiki Law School. Think of this as CliffsNotes for the collaboration generation. The purpose is to provide outlines of all law school topics.
- WikiPatents. This site aims to improve the quality of U.S. patents by using wiki technology to encourage large-scale public comment on issued patents and pending applications. Users can discuss, rate and vote on patents, add prior-art references, and comment and vote on the relevancy of prior art.
Of course, there are any number of innovative wikis outside the legal sphere, as well. For example, the parent company of Wikipedia, Wikimedia, hosts Wikiquote, Wikinews, Wikiversity and Wikispecies, to name just some. So go forth and explore, but be wiki about it.