by Stephen Schultze, Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard
Abstract: This draft working paper examines the role of user fees for public access to records in the budgeting process of the federal courts. It sketches the policy principles that have traditionally motivated open access, describes the administrative process of court budgeting, and traces the path of user fees to their present-day instantiation. There has been considerable confusion about motivation and justification for the courts charge for access to PACER, the web-based system for “Public Access to Court Electronic Records.” Representatives from the Administrative Office of the Courts describe the policy as mandated by Congress and limited to reimbursing the expenses of operating the system. This paper identifies the sources of these claims and places them in the context of the increasing push to make government data freely accessible.