Recap The Law: Getting Public Legal Data Back To The Public
from the about-time dept
There’s been a push by people both inside and outside the government to get public court documents out to the public. As it stands now, most court documents can be found via PACER, the court system’s own online service, which charges $0.08 per page. PACER notes that it’s charging for the documents to cover its own costs of managing its system, but this still bothers many who don’t like the fact that important public domain case law is so costly. There are some private services, like Justia trying to fill the void, and Carl Malamud is pushing hard to get the government to put public documents up for the public to read.
Now there’s a new service that has an interesting tactic to try to help bring these documents to the public domain. Ed Felten’s Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University is announcing a service and a Firefox extension called RECAP (it’s PACER backwards), with the tagline: “turning PACER around.” It’s a bit ingenious. Basically, if you’re a PACER user, you install the Firefox extension, and any documents you access via your PACER account automatically get uploaded to a public archive (hosted by the Internet Archive folks). If the document has already been uploaded, the extension alerts you to that fact in PACER, so you can access the open archived one.
While the folks at PACER might not like this, it’s all perfectly legal. The documents are public domain, and people can do whatever they want with the documents once they have them. Creating a public archive is one option — and a rather useful one at that. The real question is how many PACER users will actually participate in the program in order to make this a truly useful resource. At launch time, this public database has already been seeded with about a million documents, but the question is how quickly will it grow? No matter what, conceptually, this is a fantastic idea that hopefully will help to open up public domain court information that has been locked behind PACER’s paywalls for too long.