A Draft 50 State Survey of Copyright Claims in State Codes and Court Opinions

In preparation for the Law.gov event held at Stanford Law School in January of this year, I started to put together a list of how each state treats its legal publications for copyright purposes.  Specifically, I looked at the web versions of state codes to locate any claims in copyright over the code text.  This led to searching in the print editions held in our library to see what copyright was claimed in these series.  Finally I searched the codes themselves (aided by the indexes provided on Westlaw) to find any claim that had been codified.  Along the way, the search expanded to how states treat any copyright claims in their court opinions (either online or in their code) as well.

My  method was not scientific.  I looked for clear statements on each website directly related to the code or opinions themselves.  Small copyright notices at the bottom of pages that seem to claim copyright in the pages themselves were not considered claims over the code text or opinions.  I understand that an argument can be made that those symbols of copyright could extend to the entirety of the material posted by that entity.

A very rough draft of the results is posted here.  I obviously have a lot of work left to do, including cleaning up some of the questions marks that have been left unanswered.  Official print versions for the state codes and reporters will also need to be consulted to fill out these charts.  And administrative law is just a glint in my eye at the moment.

I hope this document can be expanded and that it may prove useful in the current discussion on access to state and federal primary sources of law.

Brother, can you spare $1,000?

In the age of ever-increasing price tags it can take a lot to cause sticker shock, but I got just that when I assisted a faculty member in requesting photocopies of a lengthy case file from a trial level court.  The final bill was just under $1000.  An amount that doesn’t crack top-ten lists for outrageously priced products, but not a small amount of money either.  Especially when you consider that court records like these are public record.

It begs the question, as part of the public record how publicly accessible are court records? Should “public record” in an increasingly digital world mean a trip to a court house door (possibly states away) or a photocopy bill in the triple (or more) digits?  Neither are easily answered, but both should be considered as we begin to assess the state of public access to primary sources of law and the materials that go in to making them.

A note: I know requests like this are commonplace for many librarians and researchers, but this was my first time getting to the nitty-gritty of requesting a whole case file and doing the math on its cost.  Everyone I spoke to at the court was extremely helpful and they were able to fulfill the request even more quickly than they initially forecasted.

Free resources: will they ever measure up?

Using the terminology of “hooks” instead of Tinkerbells, Bob Berring offers his opinion on commercial legal products, government web endeavors and free legal resources in a video posted here to a Thomson Reuters blog Legal Current: http://legalcurrent.com/2009/10/29/berring-on-free-legal-information/

I agree that the market for editorialized legal resources is something that will propel West and Lexis (and new-kid-on-the-block Bloomberg) into the future.  I also hope that pioneers like LII, Tim Stanley at Justia.com and Carl Malamud at PublicResource.org, and those who follow suit, will continue to take free resources to places and in directions we might not even be able to think of right now…straight on till morning.

A brief comment on the video from Cornell’s Legal Information Institute, a group who has been providing free access to legal resources for almost two decades can be found here.

Signed, sealed, delivered

Adobe bloger John B. Harris is reporting the first instance of a judge signing an order digitally.  The order was signed by the Honorable John M. Facciola of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  As Harris notes, in the past orders (etc.) have been printed out, signed by hand, and then re-scanned to be added to the courts electronic filing system, adding both time and expense to the filing process.

“By keeping the generation, signing and filing of the order completely electronic, the process is made much more efficient, potentially driving costs down and making the court’s systems work more effectively.”

A less costly, more efficient court filing process?  Can low cost/no cost access to PACER be far behind?  We can only hope (and keep on petitioning).

Update: Mea culpa, it seems our readers have been more discerning in their research than I was.  Check out the comments for a better take on this story.

E-books and Cannibals

Slate.com has an article about the on-going negotiations between book publishers and vendors of e-books (Amazon in particular).  The sticking point?  E-books that cost much less than their hard copy counterparts.

“Authors and book agents also fret that low e-book prices will “cannibalize” hardcover sales, which will “undercut the sales and royalty potential of the printed hardcover,” as one agent puts it. One publisher of a hotly anticipated book is delaying the e-book by six or more months because he fears cannibalization.”

In “Does the Book Industry Want To Get Napstered?” Jack Shafer likens this fight to what occurred in the music industry in years past and comments on the likelihood of a rise in online book pirates.

Where Have All Our Cowboys Gone? Authentication of Online Legal Resources

John Joergensen, a reference librarian at Rutgers-Camden, writes about the on-going issue of authentication of digital legal resources on Cornell’s VoxPopuLII.  His discussion touches on several different issues entwined in the authentication bundle, including the idea of reputation and “perceived trustworthiness” that the all too few commercial vendors enjoy and how to gain similar ground for free resources.  His post reminded me of a lecture that Bob Berring gave to our Advanced Legal Research in which he likened these veteran vendors to Tinkerbell.  The legal community believes in their veracity and authenticity and so they continue to dominate the digital landscape.  It’s high time we created room for more Tinkerbells to spread their online legal resource dust.

At present, AALL’s Electronic Legal Information Access and Citation Committee (ELIACC) is working on an update to their 2007 State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources.  As a participant in the update, I was asked to re-evaluate that state of West Virginia’s online primary legal materials.  In their case, while the courts and legislature provide free access to their decisions and bills/laws, they also explicitly state these versions are unofficial and no overt steps toward authentication are apparent.  I am interested to see how the terrain may have changed for other states.  Stay tuned…..

Learning for Free: Open Access to College Texts

The Los Angeles Times has a nice piece on the open-source movement as it relates to online college text books.

“Free Digital Texts Begin to Challenge Costly College Textbooks in California,” discusses recent developments in allowing access to scholarly texts.

As the FDIC Turns: Senator Schumer’s Letter about IndyMac

The letter that Senator Chuck Schumer sent to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of Thrift Supervision about IndyMac has been making headlines, especially after the bank run that lead the FDIC to step in officially.

We had a faculty member interested in reading the letter in its entirety, and our search found many places on the web that excerpted selected text, but not the complete correspondence.  Ultimately, our search was successful and I am posting the full text of this hot doc here (hat tip to the nice people at AmericanBanker.com).

Tools of the Trade, Part V

This week’s tool has international flair.  The International Legal Research Tutorial is the product of a collaboration between Marci Hoffman (University of California, Berkeley) and Katherine Topulos (Duke University) and benefits greatly from the knowledge and experience of these two Foreign & International Law librarians. 

The tutorial takes users through a brief introduction to Interational Law and then delves into meatier sections on Treaties & Agreements, Customary Law and Interanational Organizations.  The tutorial ends with a list of Essential Sources that form the backbone of international legal research.

We have assigned this tutorial to the students in our Advanced Legal Research class several times over the past three years and many students have noted is utility in the research process.