Boing Boing Posting “Liberating America’s Secret, For-Pay Laws”

Boing Boing, a group blog that started out as a zine, has recently posted an interesting and provocative piece by Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.Org:

Liberating America’s Secret, For-Pay Laws

Cross-posted on Law Library Blog.

New Legal Bug Tracker Tool: Call for Debugging Help

Our friend — and technologist, author, public domain advocate, currently known for his foundation public.resource.org and as a leader in the Law.gov effort to bring online all primary legal source materials (cases, constitutions, ordinances, regulations, rules, statutes) for open public access — Carl Malamud is calling for help to debug the new Law.gov open source NILM (National Inventory of Legal Materials) Legal Bug Tracker tool:

Help us debug the Legal Bug Tracker

Law.Gov Report Contest

From our great friend Carl Malamud:

Public.Resource.Org is pleased to announce the Law.Gov Report contest. A series of 15 workshops were conducted that resulted in a strong consensus on 10 core principles. Those workshops also produced a huge amount of material to work with including presentations by many of the leading lights in the field.

We’ve put a great deal of thought into how to do the report on this process that has been requested by members of Congress, the Courts, and the Administration and have concluded that we should take a page from the playbook of the founding fathers, which is to get a consensus on some high-level concepts (in their case the Constitution, in our case the Law.Gov principles) and then allow many people to all explain what those concepts mean (in their case, The Federalist Papers, in our case this contest being announced today).

The Law.Gov Report is a contest. We will accept submissions as a written essay or as a video essay.  The topic is really quite simple: What Does Law.Gov mean? You can write about one of the principles, or all of the principles, or any other take on the topic.

For the video essays, there is a tremendous amount of high-resolution footage available you can draw with talks by luminaries such as Vint Cerf, Larry Lessig, John Podesta, and many others. We have released final mixes of the first 27 talks and the remaining high-res footage will be available by mid-November.

If you submit an essay, please keep a couple of points in mind. First, you must attach a liberal license to your work or we will not accept it. That means at a minimum a Creative Commons license that allows derivative works with attribution, and we’d prefer if you simply used CC-Zero or Public Domain. You must also submit your work in a form that we can use for republication. In the case of a written essay, you can submit in PDF, but we’d also like revisable form text such as HTML or a word processing format. For your video, this needs to be high-resolution (you should shoot for at least NTSC size and at least several megabits per second on the encoding) and a relatively open codec (H.264/MP4, MP2, WebM).

The winning written essay will receive a prize of $5,000. The winning video essay will also receive a prize of $5,000. Submissions are due before Memorial Day (May 31). Winners will be announced the day after Labor Day at a prize ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The Memorial Day deadline was set so that students can consider making this a class project. We hope that professors in law schools, i-schools, journalism schools, and any other discipline will let their students know about this contest and offer them credit in their classes for preparing a submission.

Public.Resource.Org has put $10,000 into the Law.Gov Report Prize Fund. If others wish to contribute prizes such as books, conference tickets, lunch with a justice, or other items of educational value, please contact us.

If you have questions about the contest, please ask them on this list or contact Carl Malamud at Public.Resource.Org. (You can find his email address on the about page.)

Here are a few resources for you to work with:

1. The Law.Gov videos on YouTube

2. The Law.Gov videos on the Internet Archive

3. Directory of final footage

4. Miscellaneous additional law.gov materials

Two Million Dollar Gift for Law.Gov

Today, Google announced the winners of their Project 10^100 , giving 10 million dollars in total to ideas that will help change the world.  (Short video of the winning ideas here.)

Law.Gov is one of the winners.  As the Google posting states:

Public.Resource.Org is a non-profit organization focused on enabling online access to public government documents in the United States. We are providing $2 million to Public.Resource.Org to support the Law.Gov initiative, which aims to make all primary legal materials in the United States available to all.

What great news!

Carl Malamud writes on the O”Reilly Radar today: “This grant is going to help Public.Resource.Org continue our work on Law.Gov and Video.Gov. For Law.Gov, this is going to mean a shift into real production, building on the very solid consensus that was reached earlier this year on the Core Law.Gov Principles.

Carl Malamud also shared a status update for Law.gov efforts in that post.  Beyond the amazing gift from Google, the big updates include:

  1. Before the Law.Gov Report can be finished, video from the 15 Law.Gov workshops needs cleaning up and cataloging. ” Point.B Studio and Foolish Tree Films have been hard at work creating a 15-DVD set of workshop proceedings with approximately 70 pieces of video. The video will all get released as a final mix on the net as well as on DVDs printed at Lulu, and this core will form the basis for the next steps of the report.”
  2. To help further the National Inventory of Legal Materials,  there will soon be a “bug tracker where people can enter their survey results, in particular creating trouble tickets for jurisdictions that violate the Law.Gov Core Principles.”
  3. Carl Malamud is close to “a final agreement with UC Hastings and the Internet Archive to scan 3 million pages of 9th Circuit briefs.”  And, Malamud has sent California’s Title 24 out to be “double-keyed, turning it from PDF scans into valid marked up hypertext.”   Carl Malamud is also working on an effort to make fully available online the local codes of his surrounding North Bay Area communities.

More developments are coming up.

John B. West and other non lawyers who have revolutionized legal research

The latest issue of The American Journal of Legal History just landed on my desk.  It includes an article by Robert M. Jarvis, “John B. West:  Founder of the West Publishing Company.”   There are all sorts of fascinating facts about Mr. West in the article, including (and maybe everyone knows this but me) how he called for uniform citation way back in 1908.  From a footnote:

. . . [West] calls attention to the necessary multiplication of citations caused by the different unofficial publication of reports . . . [and] contends that reports of decisions are simply official documents which should be filed in numerical order and cited with reference to their numbers.  Under this system no matter how many decisions or systems of reporting be adopted each case can be readily found and cited by reference to this official number, entirely regardless of the volume and page of the particular publication.

The article details West’s (the man) falling out with West (the company).  “John called for the elimination of unofficial case reporters . . . [and] likewise derided the West digest system . . . “

In his conclusion to the article, Professor Jarvis remarks:

In thinking about John, two matters particularly stand out.  One is the pure randomness of his life.  If he had not moved to St. Paul and gotten a sales job with D.D. Merrill, he would not have met the lawyers he did and ended up inventing the case reporter and the digest.  It is possible, of course, that someone else might have done these things, but if not, the legal system would have developed along very different lines.

Second, there is the question of how a man who did not go to college, and was untrained in law, was able to devise methods that revolutionized legal research and, by extension, legal practice.  Why was no judge or lawyer able to see what he saw?  Perhaps the answer is that they were not looking, or perhaps it took an outsider to see what the cognoscenti could not.

This question of how a non lawyer can be such a leader in legal research struck me last quarter while we were teaching advanced legal research.  Two of our guest speakers are true revolutionaries in legal research — Carl Malamud from public.resource.org and Tom Bruce from the Cornell Legal Information Institute.   Both men are leading the free law revolution (and if Law.gov takes off, legal research will never be the same), and neither are lawyers.  Or law librarians, for that matter.

Here’s the cite to the article:

Robert M. Jarvis, “John B. West: Founder of the West Publishing Company,” The American Journal of Legal History, Volume L, Number 1, pages 1-22, January 2008-2010 (2010)

Law.gov: A Revolution in Legal Affairs

On Tuesday, January 12th, Stanford Law Library is co-hosting the first Law.gov workshop with Carl Malamud.

The keynote of the workshop is the 1pm talk entitled, “Law.gov: A Revolution in Legal Affairs.”  The speakers at this panel include: Jonathan Zittrain (Harvard Law), Anurag Acharya (Google), Carl Malamud (Public.Resource.Org) and Roberta Morris (Lecturer, Stanford Law) will serve as moderator.

The day’s agenda is full and the workshop sessions will include a discussion of the Law.gov movement, technical considerations, and other issues.

 One of the main goals of the workshop(s) is to define a National Inventory of Legal Materials and think about how we go about building it. 

Some of the questions that we plan to raise with our workshop attendees on Tuesday include:

-What items should be included in this inventory?  Think primary legal materials, plus…

-What information would we want to collect for items in the inventory?  For example: what  formats are available, costs, scope, etc.

-Should the inventory take the form of a wiki while in development?  Or?

-How should we note potential copyright issues in the inventory?   For example, some states assert copyright over statutory codes.   Also, what about the IP issues regarding briefs and filings. 

-How do we organize the effort to create the inventory?  Should this be done by individuals across the US? Should this be developed in partnership with organizations (for example, NOCALL)? 

-What about legislative efforts: will we need to work on legislation to make this a reality at the state and federal level? 

-What about legal publishers and vendors?  Can/will/how should they help?

-What about authentication concerns and standards? 

I am anxious to hear what our attendees have to contribute on these topics and more.  If you have additional questions or issues that you think should be raised at our workshop, please let me know.  Also, we welcome your comments and answers to the above questions.  Feel free to comment on this posting or send me a note.

Vive la revolution!

Celebrating Legal “Rebels” — Carl Malamud

Carl Malamud, our friend and technologist, author, and public domain advocate — currently perhaps best known for his foundation Public.Resource.org — is featured in the December 2009 ABA Journal piece Legal Rebels: Paper Tiger.

Vive la Revolution & America’s Operating System

Earlier today, (imho) there was a trending-topic-in-the-making on Twitter — all of these tweets had two things in common: the phrase “Open Source the Law” and thanks to Public.Resource.Org and BoingBoing.  

Why?

Well, BoingBoing recently posted about the latest effort by Carl Malamud and Public.Resource.org to liberate “America’s operating system.” 

As Cory Doctorow summarizes, these “actions taken together are trying to establish a basic principle: the laws of our society need to be readily available for all to read, not locked behind a cash register.” 

What did Carl Malamud do? 

Malamud mailed off three letters (on Bastille Day) to the government asking for change.  The first letter was a request to the Executive Office of the President to make the Federal Register and Patent databases available for free in bulk;  the second letter was a FOIA request to the National Archives asking them to make the many pricey ANSI and UL standards that are ‘incorporated by reference’ (in the CFR) available for free; and the third letter (perhaps my favorite) is a request for a refund for the $17K spent on a defective bulk feed of the CFR. [To see the list of all these letters, plus earlier letters, visit public.resource.org’s GPO page.]

[P.S.  If these letters have got your heart beating a bit faster, perhaps you might be interested in signing the petition to improve PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records).]

Open Letter to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, part 1

Dear Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts,

Recently, a few of my librarian colleagues and I deployed a brief petition aimed at improving PACER.

Instead, I’d like to share with you some of the amazing comments that we have already gotten in our petition’s first week.  We have heard from librarians and lawyers and legal academics, and here is a sampling of the feedback:

Professor Howard Friedman (from University of Toledo College of Law) comments:
I would like to suggest that PACER also make it possible to create hyperlinks to opinions and major pleadings so blogs and websites can link to them.

[ME TOO!]

Carl Malamud (of Public.resource.org) writes:
Access to primary legal materials is a foundational issue for the judiciary. We cannot be a nation of laws if the proceedings of our courts are distributed at high cost and with no certificate of authenticity.

Dawn Urquhart (of Canada) shares:
I value the content and only wish we had a similar resource in Canada. However, it is a very confusing database to use. I often have difficulty trying to identify the documents I need. The interface needs to be more user-friendly.

Ed Walters (of FASTCASE) suggests:
A few things would be really helpful: 1) Offer a bulk access, flat-rate license fee. Many would pay for bulk access and update. 2) Please do a better job identifying judicial opinions. Often not tagged or mis-tagged. 3) It would be great to unify PACER in a single web application instead of different apps for each court. Justia has a nice UI for this. 4) I would also support a re-rationalization of access fees so that they are proportionate to costs. I have no problem with fees to cover the costs of maintenance, or even fees to cover costs of modernization. . . .

Ellen Simmons (of Texas) writes:
As a Depository librarian, I strongly believe in free public access. Allowing Depository libraries to have free access to PACER would be another step to shore up our democracy. To echo Carl Malamud, in a nation of laws, the people should have access to the proceedings of our courts. That access should be authenticated, straightforward,and preferably free so as to be accessible to all.

Ryan Calo (of Stanford Law School, Center for Internet & Society) states:
Usability and transparency go hand in hand.

Margaret Leary (Director of the Law Library, University of  Michigan) comments:
The information in PACER was accumulated through the use of taxpayer dollars and should be freely available to the public, perhaps via the Federal Depository Library program. . . .

More comments to follow as we continue to add signatories to the petition.

Copyright, Technology, and Access to the Law: An Opinionated Primer

“Copyright, Technology, and Access to the Law: An Opinionated Primer”


NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08/09-1

JAMES GRIMMELMANN, New York Law School

Recently, the state of Oregon has used copyright law to threaten people who were publishing its laws online. Can they really do that?

More to the point, why would they? This essay will put the Oregon fracas in historical context, and explain the public policies at stake. Ultimately, it’ll try to convince you that Oregon’s demands, while wrong, aren’t unprecedented. People have been claiming copyright in the law for a long time, and at times they’ve been able to make a halfway convincing case for it. While there are good answers to these arguments, they’re not always the first ones that come to hand. It’s really only the arrival of the Internet that genuinely puts the long-standing goal of free and unencumbered access to the law within our grasp.

This essay, written for nonlawyers and people interested in contemporary debates over access to the law, explains what’s at stake in the Oregon dispute, how people have tried such things before, the role of new technologies in improving legal publishing, what the law has to say about it, and where we ought to go from here.

 

Source:  LSN Legal Information & Technology Vol. 1 No. 8,  04/08/2009