Public Domain Group to Begin Weekly Release of all Federal and State Appellate Cases

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 Law.gov 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.