WeCite Project’s win-win opportunities

Analyzing how a given opinion has been impacted by subsequent decisions is an essential part of legal research.   Consequently, the work of the Free Law movement cannot stop with making opinions freely available: a free and robust citator is also needed.

A gargantuan effort will be required to build (and continually update) such a citator. The newly launched WeCite Project, co-sponsored by the Stanford Center for Legal Informatics and the free legal research platform Casetext, aims to bring the win-win power of crowdsourcing to the task. Along with the traditional crowdsourcing strategy of enabling a community of like-minded people to easily contribute,  the WeCite Project is also giving law schools the unique opportunity to do their fair share in another win-win way:  students learn about citators and citation analysis; the database grows.  Already a number of advanced legal research classes have already participated and our class this spring will join the crowd.

The Columbia Society for Law, Science and Technology is hosting a WeCite Event at Columbia Law School on March 26, 2014 (see details and RSVP here: https://casetext.com/wecite/event).  Any and all who are passionate about legal research and/or equal access to the law are invited to attend.  Those who cannot make it to New York can also participate remotely.

Importantly, any and all citator entries created under the WeCite Project (“wecites”) are public domain under a Creative Commons SA license.  Casetext will also be creating an API to allow anyone to bulk download wecites.

The beauty of crowdsourcing is that small contributions from individuals can aggregate into something magnificent.  For those who are interesting in pitching in, instructions can be found here: https://casetext.com/wecite

Free Law Project Improves with API

Our good friend Pablo Arredondo shares this great free law development:

Those pursuing better legal technology will find new wind in their sails with the release of the first-ever application programming interface (“API”) for U.S. judicial opinions. The API is the latest in a string of great contributions from the Berkeley-centered Free Law Project (FLP), and will give developers and researchers unprecedented dexterity in accessing and analyzing FLP’s substantial (and growing) collection of judicial opinions.
Mike Lissner, co-founder of FLP and the driving force behind the new API, describes some potential uses for the API here: http://freelawproject.org/?p=342

The actual API can be accessed here: https://www.courtlistener.com/api/rest-info/
As with everything FLP does, this project is open-source and feedback from the community of users is encouraged and greatly appreciated.

Free Law Project from CourtListener

We here at Stanford are big fans of CourtListener.  We use it to, among other things, identify recent cases that cite our faculty; those alerts come to us faster than those from some other services.

Stanford Law School alumnus, Legal Research Plus guest blogger and legal informatics visionary Pablo Arredondo has some news to share about CourtListener’s Free Law Project:

Brian W. Carver and Michael Lissner, creators of the CourtListener platform
and associated technology, are pleased to announce that after four years
developing free and open legal technologies, they are launching a
non-profit umbrella organization for their work: Free Law Project. Free Law
Project will serve to bring legal materials and research to the public for
free, formalizing the work that they have been doing, and providing a
long-term home for similar projects.

“Since the birth of this country, legal materials have been in the hands of
the few, denying legal justice to the many,” said Michael Lissner,
co-founder of the new non-profit. “It is appalling that the public does not
have free online access to the entirety of United States case law,” said
Brian Carver, UC Berkeley professor and Free Law Project co-founder. “We
are working to change this situation. We also provide a platform for
developing technologies that can make legal research easier for both
professionals and the general public.”

The official goals for the non-profit are:

*   To provide free, public, and permanent access to primary legal
materials on the Internet for educational, charitable, and scientific
purposes;
*   To develop, implement, and provide public access to technologies useful
for legal research;
*   To create an open ecosystem for legal research and materials; and
*   To support academic research on related technologies, corpora, and
legal systems.

The CourtListener platform was started in 2009 as part of a masters project
at UC Berkeley, and has matured over the years to be a powerful legal
research platform. It has nearly a million legal opinions dating from 1754,
and has more each day as it gets them directly from court websites.
CourtListener currently serves thousands of people with free legal opinions
each week, and has had a doubling of traffic just since July 2013.
CourtListener sends out hundreds of alerts to its users each week,
informing them of new legal cases in which they have expressed an interest.
All of CourtListener’s code is open source and all of its content is
available for free bulk download. Numerous startups and researchers have
used both the code and the bulk data as a basis for their work.

More information is available in [the Free Law Project about page][1],
where you can find a list of current activities and non-profit documents.
The co-founders expect to pursue grant funding from foundations, but also
hope that those who support the goals of improving public access to the law
will [donate directly][2] so that the non-profit can put more developers to
work on these efforts.

In the future, freelawproject.org will be the official place to find
updates about Free Law Project and its related technologies.

“This is a huge day for the open legal movement, and we hope you’ll help
share the news by telling your friends and colleagues,” said Lissner.

**Brian W. Carver** is Assistant Professor at the UC Berkeley School of
Information where he does research on and teaches about intellectual
property law and cyberlaw. He is also passionate about the public’s access
to the law. In 2009 and 2010 he advised an I School Masters student,
Michael Lissner, on the creation of CourtListener.com, an alert service
covering the U.S. federal appellate courts. After Michael’s graduation he
and Brian continued working on the site and have grown the database of
opinions to include over 900,000 documents.

**Michael Lissner** is the co-founder and lead developer of CourtListener,
a project that works to make the law more accessible to all. He graduated
from UC Berkeley’s School of Information. Michael is passionate about
bringing greater access to our primary legal materials, about how
technology can replace old legal models, and about open source,
community-driven approaches to legal research.

For more information, contact info@freelawproject.org

[1]: http://freelawproject.org/about/
[2]: https://courtlistener.com/donate/?referrer=flp-blog

Ineffective Assistance of Library: The Failings and the Future of Prison Law Libraries

By Jonathan Abel, in Volume 101, Issue #5 of The Georgetown Law Journal (June 2013).  Here’s the abstract:

The prison law library has long been a potent symbol of the inmate’s right to access the courts. But it has never been a practical tool for providing that access. This contradiction lies at the core of the law library doctrine. It takes little imagination to see the problem with requiring untrained inmates, many of them illiterate or non-English speakers, to navigate the world of postconviction relief and civil rights litigation with nothing more than the help of a few library books. Yet law libraries are ubiquitous in American prisons. Now, in light of a technological revolution in legal research methods, prison libraries face an existential crisis that requires prison officials, courts, scholars, and inmates to reconsider the very purpose of the prison law library. This Article takes up that challenge by providing a novel historical account of the prison law library’s development.

This Article uses original historical research to show how prison law libraries arose, not as a means of accessing the courts, but rather as a means of controlling inmates’ behavior. By placing the origin of the prison law library in the first decades of the twentieth century–half a century earlier than typical accounts–this Article shows how the law library evolved to take on a new purpose in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Supreme Court and other courts first began to fashion a law library doctrine. The central argument of this Article is simple: The courts’ attempts to graft an access-to-courts rationale onto a law library system that had developed for other purposes led to a law library doctrine riddled with contradictions and doomed to failure. This historical account helps explain a prison law library system that never really made sense in terms of providing access to the courts. As prisons look to update their law libraries in light of sweeping technological changes, it is all the more important to understand the history of the law library system so that authorities can plan for its future.

 

 

A plea to scholars

Dear scholars,

Please pay attention to where you place your scholarship.   Are you aware of the cost of some journal subscriptions?  One example, of many, is the Journal of Law & Society.  The Stanford Law Library used to get this print subscription with discounted rate and paid $161 for the current 2013 print subscription. We just received word from Hein (who handles the subscription for us) that the publisher will begin to charge us the full price with an additional payment of $851.00.

What made me think of this was the receipt yesterday of a new publication from my hero Carl Malamud.  Carl has become quite the pamphleteer and his most recent is On Crime and Access to Knowledge.    I urge you all to read it.

In the pamphlet, Carl tells the story of the late Aaron Swartz and discusses JSTOR, PACER, and broader information access issues such as Carl’s heroic efforts to make public safety documents, such as building codes, available to the public.

But on the issue of what Aaron did with JSTOR, Carl makes this important point:

. . . One must remember that JSTOR is a messenger, an intermediary, and if there is fault here, that fault is ultimately the fault of the scholars who wrote those articles and allowed them to be locked up.  It was a corruption of scholarship when the academy handed over copyright to knowledge so that it could be rationed in order to extract rents.

Please think twice before you place a piece of your scholarship with a particular journal.  Find out what it costs to subscribe to the journal; find out what databases include its text (your librarian can help with this); ask the journal if you can retain ownership and publication rights.  And ask yourself:  Do you really want your scholarship tightly locked up behind expensive pay walls?

 

Legal Information Institute for China?

The Legal Information Institutes (LIIs) have been spearheading the free access to law movement throughout the world. Until recently, China has been conspicuously absent from the family of LIIs; however, that may soon change.

The Internet Law Review (网络法律评论) from Peking University Law School is working on an upcoming article that focuses on the possibility of forming a legal information institute in China. Keep an eye out for the article tentatively titled: “Law via the Internet: Why there is no LII for China.”

If you are interested in China’s development of a LII or Chinese legal research in general, you may wish to attend the the Chinese and American Forum on Legal Information and Law Libraries (CAFLL) Conference scheduled for Shanghai from June 11-12, 2013. CAFLL conferences offer a unique opportunity for Chinese and foreign law librarians to exchange ideas and expertise.

Additional conference information is available at the CAFLL Website:

http://cafllnet.org/annual-conference/

Wishing our Chinese colleagues good luck with promoting free access to law in China.

Selling others’ briefs

Following up on George’s post “A pair of lawyers . . . sue West and LexisNexis for reproducing their court filings,” I took a second look at a directed research paper a student did for me a couple of years ago on the subject of vending appellate briefs.  The student surveyed 17 jurisdictions — 10 that provide briefs to vendors and 7 that do not.

One of the interesting take-aways from the student’s paper is the wide variety in means by which vendors have obtained briefs.  Some states have made various arrangements with vendors; others refuse to do so.  For a very few states there is a distinct quid pro quo. Past practices will change, though, as the vendors are increasingly just pulling from posted copies; unless a court rules against such a practice it will only accelerate.

California and Pennsylvania, of the surveyed jurisdictions, both have quid pro quo arrangements.  For example, in California, the state Supreme Court used to send copies of the briefs to certain public law libraries but stopped the practice when it made a deal with Court Records Service (later acquired by West Publishing) whereby the court receives microfiche copies in return for providing the briefs.

Massachusetts has what seems like an odd arrangement whereby briefs are scanned once at the Clerk’s Office, then sent to Westlaw, where they are scanned again and later returned.

To write the paper the student called librarians, court clerks, reporters of decisions, and the vendors.  None of the surveyed court staff members reported any attorney dissatisfaction with the practice of providing briefs to the vendors.  And in one state, the Reporter of Decisions speculated that attorneys actually liked “the free advertising.”  And many clerks were surprised that this has become an issue at all since the documents are public records.

Yes, they are public records but that doesn’t mean they are in the public domain.  Yet who wins if a court rules that Westlaw and LexisNexis are infringing authors’ copyright?  My student thinks that the attorney authors are really the only winners (if they receive royalties) and most of them have already received substantial compensation for writing these briefs and all other players (the courts, the public) are losers.   I hope that in the spirit of pro bono most attorneys will continue to make their appellate briefs available to all the world and not press ownership claims (with perhaps some sort of opt-out provision for the rare instances when, for privacy or other sensitive concerns, certain briefs should not be published).   It would also be a better world if LexisNexis and Westlaw could also take responsible pro bono actions here, as suggested by Ed Connor and not profit from the work product of those in the private sector.

Here’s the cite to my student’s paper:  Bryan Jarrett, Vending Appellate Briefs: The practice, its future, and implications if found illegal.   Submitted October 30, 2010.

Abstract:

This paper analyzes the collection and sale of appellate briefs.  It presents the findings of a survey of seventeen jurisdictions.  The paper discusses how Westlaw and LexisNexis access the briefs, whether they have structured mutually beneficial agreements with the courts that provide the briefs, whether attorneys commonly object to the sale of their briefs, the likely future of the industry, and the potential policy implications of a successful legal challenge to the industry’s practices.

ICALIRDA Conference 2012 – Legal Information in India

International Conference on Access to Legal Information & Research in the Digital Age (ICALIRDA 2012)
February 29 – March 2, 2012

Organizers:
National Law University, Delhi
SAARC Law
Mohan Law House

Location:
Auditorium, National Law University, Delhi
Sector-14, Dwarka, New Delhi-110078 India

Main Theme:
International Conference on Access to Legal Information & Research in the Digital Age
(29 Feb-02 March 2012)

Sub Themes:
*   Legal Education and Research: Current Development in Digital Age
*   Role of ICT in Development of Comparative Jurisprudence
*   International Law and Globalization in Digital Age
*   Current Trends in Legal Publishing :IPR Issues & Challenges
*   Licensing for Digital Resources
*   Best Practices of Information & Knowledge Management in Libraries
*   Open Access Initiatives and Scholarly Publishing
*   Free Access to Law Movement: National & International Perspective
*   Access, Authorization and Authentication of Digital Web Information
*   Role, Relevancy and Research: Online Legal Databases

For additional information contact the Conference Convener, Priya Rai:
Ms. Priya Rai
Deputy Librarian,
Justice T.P.S.Chawla Library,
National Law University Delhi,
Sec-14 Dwarka, New Delhi-110078
Tel: 011-24533441,09811260504
icalirda2012@gmail.com

http://www.nludelhi.ac.in

hat tip to Aru Satkalmi.

Michael Hart, Father of Project Gutenberg

Today’s New York Times includes the lengthy obituary: “Michael Hart, a Pioneer of E-Books, Dies at 64.”

The obit tells the story of the fascinating history of Project Gutenberg, which was born when Mr. Hart typed out the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1971 and made it freely downloadable from Arpanet.   From that beginning, the project has grown to include over 30,000 books.

The obituary also discusses various copyright issues and Mr. Hart’s connection with then Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig when Prof. Lessig met for lunch with Mr. Hart to see if he might serve as lead plaintiff in a constitutional challenge to the Copyright Term Extension Act.  Mr. Hart, after pouring sugar on his pizza, told Prof. Lessig that he saw the ligitation as a chance to “challenge the entire social and economic system of the United States.”    According to the obit. Prof. Lessig was looking for someone a little “less visionary” and enlisted Eric Eldred for the cause, which resulted in the 2003 Supreme Court decision Eldred v. Ashcroft.

Open Access Law Journals – “One Journal at a Time”

Judy Janes and Marissa Andrea just published a good article on open access law journals.  Their article, “One Journal at a Time,” includes a few paragraphs providing “a brief history of open access.”  In addition, they comment upon how “the success of RSS feeds, SSRN alerts and SMARTCILP/CLJC email updates has further accelerated the transition to Open Access journals.”

In their “Learn More” section of the article they link to a video presentation where Dick “Danner discusses Open Access and the Durham Statement and also his paper entitled “The Durham Statement on Open Access One Year Later: Preservation and Access to Legal Scholarship” available at SSRN.”

Other resources linked in the Janes and Andrea article include:

Directory of Open Access Journals

Science Commons Open Access Law Project

and

New York Law School list of law reviews with online content

This movement will benefit us all, as Janes and Andrea state it:

. . . As more journals become available on the Internet through an initiative called Open Access, published legal scholarship — once only available in print form from law libraries, or online through proprietary databases ­— will reach a wider audience. This is a movement not only benefiting practicing attorneys, but historians, scholars and members of the public with legal research interests, who will be able to access legal scholarship by simply googling a topic.