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?

 

Operation Asymptote – Spread the word – Download distributed PACER documents

Operation Asymptote

Overview

Operation Asymptote is an initiative designed to download as much of PACER as possible by spreading the burden across many individuals, none of whom need to spend anything by staying under PACER’s $15.00 per quarter free access allowance.

What do I need to do this?

  1. You must have five minutes.
  2. You must have a valid credit or debit card, even though it will not be charged.
  3. You must have a computer with internet access that can run Firefox.
  4. You must have a PACER account.
  5. You must have the free RECAP browser extension.
  6. You must download no more than $15.00 worth of PACER materials per calendar quarter.

. . .

Survey: Will the PACER Fee Increase Change Your Research Habits?

Will the upcoming 25% fee increase for PACER documents change your research habits?

I wonder what other librarians and researchers are thinking about this increased cost.

If you have a moment, please take this one question poll and feel free to add comments to this post, too.

PACER Fees Increase

According a press release on the U.S. Courts website, PACER fees will be going 25% effective November 1st:  

“The Conference also authorized an increase in the Judiciary’s electronic public access fee in response to increasing costs for maintaining and enhancing the electronic public access system. The increase in the electronic public access (EPA) fee, from $.08 to $.10 per page, is needed to continue to support and improve the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, and to develop and implement the next generation of the Judiciary’s Case Management/Electronic Case Filing system.”

The release continues to describe a few exemptions:

“The Conference was mindful of the impact such an increase could have on other public entities and on public users accessing the system to obtain information on a particular case.  For this reason, local, state, and federal government agencies will be exempted from the increase for three years. Moreover, PACER users who do not accrue charges of more than $15 in a quarterly billing cycle would not be charged a fee. (The current exemption is $10 per quarter.) The expanded exemption means that 75 to 80 percent of all users will still pay no fees.”

The expanded fee exemption (from $10 to $15 a quarter) offers additional help, but an exemption for academic institutions and law libraries, or at least GPO depository libraries, would serve the public good.

Might be a good time to teach your students and attorneys about using RECAP.

PACER Training Pilot Project Begins in July

PACER Training Pilot Project Begins in July
June 17, 2011

A pilot project aimed at having public libraries enhance the public’s knowledge and use of the federal judiciary’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service begins July 1, 2011.

Two libraries – the Library of Congress in the District of Columbia and the Law Library for San Bernadino, California – will kick off the pilot, but up to 50 additional public libraries may join them in future months.

PACER allows users to obtain case information from federal courts without having to visit the courthouse. The service allows an Internet user to request information about a particular case or party, and makes the data immediately available for printing or downloading at a cost of 8 cents per page.

In the pilot project, libraries will conduct at least one training class for the general public every three months, and offer training or refresher opportunities for library staff at least one a year. Those staff members, in turn, may assist library patrons in the use of PACER. For participating libraries, the first $50 of PACER use fees each quarter will be waived.

The pilot is a joint undertaking of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, the Government Printing Office, and the American Association of Law Libraries.

Searching through RECAP

[Post updated — see note at bottom]

The folks at the CITP have just improved RECAP.

How? They have now added search functionality.

By going to Archive.recapthelaw.org, you can search all the documents gathered by the RECAP Firefox Extension. The simple search allows you quick access to documents from U.S. Federal District and Bankruptcy Court documents, without charge. Further, the search will pull up the full docket sheet for a case, alerting and allowing you to acquire documents that are on PACER (and not yet in RECAP).

There is a simple and an advanced query page. The advanced query allows you to search by case name, number, court and dates of filing.

Two great features: it provides an RSS feed and an e-mail alert option for your query if you want to track the case.

Further, once you are viewing a case, you can add tags and connect related cases. For the case that I was searching, it even showed that it had been viewed 2 other times (by me).

As to privacy concerns, when you view case details, there is a button for reporting privacy violations. Although we hope that these privacy mistakes won’t occur, this button does help remove that data from the searchable RECAP archive.

The site mentions that it is still in the experimental phase and they welcome feedback.  I might suggest a page of search tips (for example, should we use quotation marks for exact searches? etc).  Also, I am not sure if this is searching full-text through all the downloaded documents and the tags that users might supply.  Or, is this searching just through a few fields in the documents (attorney name, nature of suit, etc)?  So, a bit more information on the searching will be helpful.  [I will find out more and add to this post with details.]

But, all that being said, what a great resource.  Now, what should we ask the folks at CITP to do for us next?

[UPDATE: this comes from Dhruv Kapadia, one of the Archive.Recapthelaw.org developers: “Right now the search is limited to the contents of the docket – the descriptions of each document as well as some parts of the metadata
associated with the docket. In the future, we may try to incorporate the OCRed text of the documents themselves, but we aren’t doing that currently.”]

Pondering PACER pricing

What Does It Cost to Provide Electronic Public Access to Court Records?

by Steve Schultze, Associate Director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton
US Courts have long faced a dilemma. Public access to proceedings is essential to a well-functioning democracy. On the other hand, providing public access requires expenditure of funds. Charging for access works against public access. Traditionally, these costs have been considered to be part of the general operating cost of courts, and there have been no additional fees for public access. The cost of the courthouse, the public gallery, and the bailiff are included. The administrative cost that the clerks incur in providing free public inspection of records is also covered, although the clerk may collect fees for filing actions or making physical copies.

I have been trying to understand how these practices have been translated into the networked digital era by exploring PACER, the US Courts’ system for “Public Access to Court Electronic Records.” Digital technologies have a way of pushing the cost of information dissemination toward zero, but as I observed in a recent working paper, this does not appear to be the trajectory of public access fees. Congress has provided a statutory limitation that states that the “Judicial Conference may, only to the extent necessary, prescribe reasonable fees… to reimburse expenses incurred in providing these services.” In short, you can only charge for public access services if those fees are used to, at most, cover the operating expenses for those same services. What’s more, in an accompanying conference report, Congress noted that it “…intends to encourage the Judicial Conference to move… to a fee structure in which this information is freely available to the greatest extent possible.”

As described below, the Judiciary’s financial reports appear to tell a different story: In the past several years, the Judicial Conference has consistently expanded the scope of its expenditures of public access fees such that the vast majority is now spent on other services.

. . .

What we don’t know….RECAP/Pacer Survey

At the NOCALL Spring Institute in March, I demonstrated the RECAP plug-in.  After the presentation, one attendee stopped by and suggested that not enough librarians are using the plug-in because they just don’t know about it.  I must admit that the comment surprised me — so, I decided to do a quick survey.

With the blessing of the folks at RECAP (CITP at Princeton), I created a super simple survey trying to see  if we (librarians) know about RECAP and if we do, do we use it and teach about it.  I created a survey on Zoomerang and sent the link to the following e-mail lists: LAW-LIB, NOCALL, and All-SIS, and also spread the word on Twitter.

As of May 15th, here is what the we saw from the survey:

There were 261 completed surveys.  Law firm librarians represented 18% percent of the respondents; academic law librarians represented 70%, and state/county/federal librarians represented 6% of the replies.

Ninety percent of the respondents said that they use PACER.

However, 42.4% of the 257 folks who answered the question “Have you ever heard of RECAP?” said “no”.   The academic law librarians comprised nearly 78 percent of the “no” votes (and 63% of the “yes” votes).   Seventy-three percent of the 45 law firm librarians who responded to this question had heard of RECAP.

Seventy-two percent of the respondents said that they didn’t have RECAP installed on any computers in their library.  And, of that group, 12% don’t use the plug-in because they use IE or Chrome for their browser (plug-in not compatible with those browsers);  15% don’t have the plug-in installed because their employers don’t allow it; and the largest part, 58%, don’t have it installed because they are unfamiliar with the plug-in.

And, the last question asked if respondents provided training on RECAP or taught RECAP in advanced legal research courses.  Only 6% of the respondents said “yes” to this question.  Ninety-four percent are not providing any training or instruction on RECAP.  (Note: We have been showing our students how to use RECAP and we find that our clinic students are often most receptive to this type of training.)

I hope that after reading this survey, more librarians might want to learn more about RECAP and try to use it at work and with their patrons.  Given the new look and feel of the PACER website (launched this weekend), it is good to know that the RECAP plug-in still works just fine.  What a good time to install RECAP.

FJC Privacy Audit of PACER Documents

New from the Federal Judicial Center:

“A Memorandum to Honorable Reena Raggi, Chair, Privacy Protection Subcommittee [of the Judicial Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedureregarding Social Security Numbers in Federal Court Documents,” by George Cort and Joe Cecil (Federal Judicial Center), April 5, 2010.

The summary states:

“The Center identified 2,899 documents with one or more unredacted Social Security numbers among the almost ten million documents filed in federal district and bankruptcy courts in a recent two-month period. Seventeen percent of these documents appeared to qualify for an exemption from the redaction requirement under the relevant privacy rules. An unknown number of the remaining documents may qualify for a waiver of the privacy protection under the rules, but we could not determine whether such a waiver applied to the documents identified in this study.”

More than One Document a Minute

The headline from the Internet Archive posting reads: “Millions of documents from over 350k federal court cases now freely available.”

The millions of documents are all from PACER by way of the RECAP plugin.

As the posting states:

RECAP is a Firefox Internet browser extension that allows users of the PACER to get free copies of documents they would normally pay for when the Archive has a copy, and if it is not available to then automatically donate the documents after they purchase them from PACER for future users. Therefore the repository on the Internet Archive grows as people use the PACER system with this plug-in. We are currently getting more than one document a minute and some large holdings are being uploaded. We hope that the government will eventually put all of these documents in an open archive, but until then this repository will grow with use.”

Wow.  Growing faster than one document a minute!  (Right now: stop what you are doing and check to see if you have the RECAP plugin installed on your machine — every little bit helps.)

To visit this collection and search the content, go to www.archive.org/details/usfederalcourts.  There you will be able to browse by date (the other browsing features aren’t operational).  You can also do an Advanced Search on the Internet Archive and keyword search through all the available materials by limiting to the Collection Type = usfederalcourts.   VERY COOL.

And, might I add: FREE!

I checked with the good folks who created RECAP at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy, and they said that for now the RECAP/Internet Archive collection of PACER dockets (specifically: just the high-level case metadata) are indexed and can be searched by the likes of Google, but the underlying dockets, documents and briefs are still hidden from the search robots because of privacy concerns.