As mentioned in today’s Law Librarian Blog, it appears — per a helpful investigatory audit of Public.Resource.org, an organization headed up by Carl Malamud, who recently (October 20, 2008) presented to the Advanced Legal Research class at Stanford Law School — that Social Security Numbers (SSNs) and other confidential and sensitive personal identification information remain available in federal court opinions contrary to the E-Government Act of 2002.
The good folks at public.resource.org have just released a new collection on their site: Justice.gov. This collection, once known as FLITE and then later as JURIS, is a digital collection of federal case law. The story behind this is quite fascinating, too.
From the Public.Resource.org site:
“Back when disco was king, the USAF decided that those new-fangled computers might be just the thing for the JAG Corps, so they set a bunch of flyboys down in front of keypunch machines and made a database of U.S. law called FLITE. After several turf-grabbing campaigns and a massive meeting of BOGSATT, the system was taken over by the Department of Justice and re-dubbed JURIS.”
“But, the lawyers in Justice were jealous of their pin-stripe buddies in private practice, so they got themselves high-priced West and Lexis-Nexis accounts so that they could be professional. Then, they deleted the JURIS database from government computers so there would be no going back. Today, the U.S. government does not possess a digital copy of the cases and codes that make up the law of the land.”
“One copy of JURIS survives, acquired by the Linguistic Data Consortium (LDC) of the University of Pennsylvania and available under a carefully restricted license agreement to those who pay the sum of $800 and agree not to redistribute the data. The LDC is a group of linguistic researchers and they acquire corpora of linguistic interest to analyze. By prohibiting redistribution and binding their members to such constraints, they are able to acquire commercial databases to analyze.”
“Public.Resource.Org has purchased a copy of the JURIS database and we have requested that the Linguistic Data Consortium free this public domain data so that it may be examined by all. The database consists of 1,665 files totaling 3.1 gbytes. The 522 mega-words in the corpus yields approximately 2,091,628 pages of text.”
“UPDATE: Friday, 13 June 2008. We have made the JURIS database available so that you may judge for yourself the importance of these files. You may browse the directory or download the 900 Mbyte tarball. There is a compelling public policy issue in the fact that the Department of Justice deleted 2 million pages of case law after establishing their for-pay contract with a commercial concern. Why did the government delete such a valuable asset that was created at taxpayer expense? Why would a copy not be kept just in case? Why does the government not have a digital copy of their own work product? These are questions of national concern and the public has a right to examine the evidence.”
(I also posted this on the Free Government Information blog):
Here at Stanford, the campus recently enjoyed the excitement that is Recyclemania. (Stanford actually won the Gorilla Prize!)
In the spirit of Recyclemania, I want to share an amazing project for recycling PACER documents. The site, brought to you by Carl Malamud and the good people at Public Resource, gives everyone a chance to liberate PACER case downloads.
How do you do it? Here are the simple instructions from the site:
“Just upload all your PACER Documents to our recycling bin. Click on the recycle bin and you’ll be presented with a dialogue to choose files to upload. Then, just hit the “Start Upload” button and you’ll hear the sounds of progress as your documents get reinjected into the public domain.
We’ll take the documents, look at them, and then put them onto bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/pacer for future distribution. This is a manual process and you won’t see your documents show up right away. But, over time, we hope to accumulate a significant database of PACER Documents. “
Interested in helping, but you don’t have the time to recycle documents onto the site? Well, lucky for you, the site also allows you contribute with Digital Offsets. The digital offsets are a tax-deductible donation to Public.Resource.Org which will then be utilized to purchase PACER Documents for the site.
Are you lucky enough to live near one of the 16 libraries with FREE access to PACER? Perhaps, you want to sign up to join the Thumb Drive Corps, who will go to these locations with a jump drive and download as many PACER documents as possible for the Pacer recycling site.
So, what is good for the bottle, is good for the docket….
Last week, the State of Oregon Legislative Counsel Committee sent Justia a notice of copyright infringement and demand to cease and desist. In its letter, Dexter Johnson, the Legislative Counsel, asked us to remove a copy of the Oregon Revised Statutes stored on our servers (or pay a licensing fee) by April 30, 2008. The letter claimed copyright on many parts of the Oregon Revised Statutes:
[T]he Committee … claim[s] a copyright in the arrangement and subject-matter compilation of Oregon statutory law, the prefatory and explanatory notes, the leadlines and numbering for each statutory section, the tables the index and annotations and such other incidents as are work product of the Committee in the compilation and publication of Oregon law.
Now, the letter is more detailed than the copyright claim on the Oregon Revised Statutes website:
The Legislative Counsel Committee claims copyright protection in those parts of Oregon Revised Statutes that are legally subject to copyright protection.
My take after reading the above claim on their website was that the State of Oregon was claiming a copyright to the annotation section and not the code itself. Accordingly, our copy of the Oregon Revised Statutes did not include the annotations. Needless to say Oregon’s copyright claim on the code itself was a surprise (understatement).
As requested in the letter, I called Oregon’s Sean Brennan the same Friday and Sean explained their position, reinforced the copyright claims in Dexter Johnson’s letter and said he would get us some licensing information (which is $30,000 for 2 years). He also said that Oregon had been talking with other states about how to raise licensing revenue for their codes. That was somewhat disturbing, as we want states to open up their public laws and regulations.
After the call with Sean, I talked with and sent a copy of the letter to Carl Malamud, who being a former Oregon fire fighter, has a special affection for the state of Oregon. Carl checked out the site, and wrote some letters to Dexter Johnson seeking clarification of their copyright claims.
Thursday, we (Carl Malamud, Nolo’s Stephen Elias and I) had a pleasant and constructive conversation with Dexter Johnson and his team. The Oregon folks are going to think through some different options. If Oregon comes up with a solution that promotes free and open access to the laws, then we will likely avoid litigation. If not, then we will likely have to ask the courts to determine whether state governments can prohibit others from downloading, reproducing or distributing the laws. I hope that given Oregon’s public interest focus, the State will adopt an approach that promotes open access to laws instead of one that maximizes licensing fees. We should know more next week.
Some prominent legal bloggers have commented on Oregon’s copyright claims. See Professor Tim Armstrong’s post “Can States Copyright Their Statutes?” on Info/Law and William Patry’s post “Oregon goes wacka wacka huna kuna” on the The Patry Copyright Blog and Sam Bayard’s post “Oregon Claims Copyright in Its Statutes — Well, Sort Of” on the Citizen Media Law Project Blog. We agree that public policy demands that state laws remain in the public domain. To otherwise permit the State of Oregon or any other governmental body to restrict access to the laws that govern all of us would make a mockery of the legal doctrine that all persons have presumed knowledge of the law. Fortunately, many courts have rightfully declined to recognize such copyright claims asserted by states and municipalities.