The next revolution in legal publishing is just around the corner. Starting in 2011, Public.Resource.Org, an organization devoted to putting government documents in the public domain, will begin a weekly release of HTML versions of all slip and final opinions of the appellate and supreme courts of all 50 states and the federal government. The weekly release, to be called the Report of Current Opinions, will be available for reuse without restriction by anyone under the Creative Commons CC-Zero License and will include full star pagination.

Carl Malamud, the founder of Public.Resource.Org, announced RECOP in a post today at the O’Reilly Radar blog. He will obtain the cases from Fastcase, which will provide all opinions in a given week by the end of the following week. Participants in the project — which include both for-profit organizations such as Justia and Fastcase and academic institutions such as PrincetonCornell and Stanford — will assist by performing initial post-processing of the raw HTML data.

[See also this update: More Details on RECOP from Fastcase’s Ed Walters.]

In addition to weekly release of all current opinions, Malumud announced today, the feed will include periodic releases of important segments of the back file, including:

  • A release of 3 million pages of 9th Circuit briefs from 1892 to 1968 which were produced in cooperation with UC Hastings College of the Law and the Internet Archive and is scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2011.
  • Double-keyed HTML for at least the first 10 volumes of the Federal Reporter, First Series and all 30 volumes of the Federal Cases will be completed by the end of the second quarter of 2011. This data is being furnished as part of the YesWeScan Project.
  • William S. Hein & Co., which provided high-resolution scans of the Federal Cases, is providing a high-resolution scan of the Federal Reporter, First Series which will be released in the first quarter of 2011.

The project is actively pursuing several other important archives that are missing from the collection, Malamud said, including Supreme Court Briefs and multiple versions of the annotated statutes of the 50 states. “We would welcome the contribution of any legal publishers wishing to furnish such data,” he said.

Notably, the RECOP project will be limited in its duration. Malamud explains:

Providing the back file and ongoing release of primary legal materials is really the job of those institutions of government that make the law. That is the idea behind Law.Gov, an idea that the government must do a much better job of promulgating the raw materials of our democracy. Because we feel strongly that government must strive much harder to be that shining city upon the hill that Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy both aspired to, we have set two timeouts on this new service.

The first timeout is a sunset clause. RECOP will operate in 2011 and 2012 and then terminate. By then, Malamud says, the government should be able to pick up the reins. The second timeout could come earlier. “We have established a milestone of July 1, 2011,” Malamud writes, “by which government needs to step up to the plate and join us in helping make this service real.”

It is not clear from Malamud’s post what happens if government does not step up to the plate.

More details on the project will be released in mid-January, Malamud said.

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  • Hi Bob –

    Thanks for the nice piece. Let me explain the timing issues a bit more.

    We set two timeouts, one hard and one soft. The hard one is that this is a 2-year deal. Somebody else may step up and do this in year 3, but I won’t be one of those people. We want this over the wall and a function of government by then.

    The soft timeout is the 6-month clock we’ve set for government participation. I’m letting all our developers who will be using the data know the level of our commitment. We’re definitely doing this for at least 6 months. We set aside the $210,000 to make that happen.

    If .gov becomes a no-show, we reserve the right to come up with a plan B. But, if they step up to the plate (which I believe is going to happen … people are really enthusiastic), we’re here for the two full years.

    An important part of any open source effort is the roadmap, a consensus on where the project is going. We wanted to send out that initial signal on timing so people have an idea of what to expect.



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  • Hi Bob:

    I am a little confused – is not most of this data, if not more, being hosted regularly by Google Scholar? Plus Google Scholar is picking up the trial courts as well and unpublished opinions. So, what is the great advance here – the tagging? How good is the tagging?

    Will RECOP include just the initially released opinions prior to printing in the bound volumes, or will Fastcase be keying-in the final opinions as reported in the West National Reporter Systems and the various state reporters (one does not exist for US Supreme Court and US Court of Appeals)?

    The posting at Justia suggests that star pagination will be included – how can that be unless the West Federal Reporter is being keyboarded and as part of RECOP?

    RECOP seems to suggest that they intend to persuade state and federal appellate courts to take over this feed after 6 months – does RECOP have a list of all the courts which it is including in its release? What is the real plan?

    Do not almost all appellate courts, if not all, currently have web sites with their appeal decisions? It is pretty easy to access most of these sites. Has RECOP conducted a detailed technical study of the web sites of each of the courts in each of the 50 states and identified the format and metadata of included information, and indicated which sites also make available the corrected final version of case. I note that RECOP has a $2 million grant for this project.

    Has RECOP released for public comment an XML schema for these cases. Most standards organization release such schemas and have extensive public comment over a long period of time? Does the choses XML scheme work also for trial courts and published as well as unpublished case, or is it primarily an appeal oriented schema, and not one which addresses the complexity of all appeal courts in all states?

    I recall in the early 90s a conversation with Kathryn Downing of Mead, LCP, and then Times Mirror/LA Times. Her view was that a public utility to collect and release opinions was the way to go. I agreed then. I urged this on Malamud in 2007 when he first decided to enter this field, though he rejected the concept then. Is this what RECOP wants? Why would the legal publishers want this – what about the freerider problem?

    RECOP seems to have no private sector legal publisher support except for FASTCASE.

    I just am not sure where this is going. I am mindful of many past exaggerations and vaporlaw – and I am sure you are as well.

    In fact, I thought once before Public Resource announced that “all” federal law was to be available and released by them – now it seems this “service” is omitting the district and bankruptcy courts (of course, they were not in the prior “release” either — nor were there unpublished opinions in the prior “release.”) Also, Public Resource a couple of years ago announced the Hein earlier federal reporter cases – is this a re-announcement?

    For out of copyright material, it seems to me not a good use of funds to do anything more than scan the volumes and ocr to pdf, separate out the pdf files per case, prepare an xml file for the pdf file, Why go to the expense of double keying old material. Sure, if an old case has been cited a million time, HTML it, but, otherwise, this seems to be a waste of money to double-key. Also, I though Google had scanned in all of the old reporters as part of its library book scanning project – is that not enough? The only problem there is to split up the books and provide a pdf per case. I suggested this to Malamud in 2007, but, he rejected that concept. Why not?

    The biggest gap out there are the unpublished US District Court cases prior to 2004 or so that are not on Pacer – these cases are only on Lexis and Westlaw. Indeed, the US District Court case where HyperLaw won the text copyright case against West in 1997 was never put into the Federal Supplement.,; nor were two other opinions in that case: and So, these are “missing” form the internet body of law.

    Oh well – deja vu.

    Alan Sugarman HyperLaw

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