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.

Building the National Inventory of Legal Materials (resume building too).

Erika Wayne and I spoke at the American Association of Law Libraries annual meeting in Denver, Colorado on Saturday, July 10, 2010.  We spoke at the “Legislative Advocacy Training 2010:  Raising the Bar in Your State” session.  Below is the text of my remarks.

I’m going to let Erika do most of the talking, as she has done most of the work.  And she has done a lot of work on this.

But I would like to say a word about the importance of the National Inventory of Legal Materials (NILM) and also to encourage other library directors to encourage their staffs to use their 20% time, or 10% time, or even 1% time to contribute to the inventory.

Rick Klau, who works at Google and who was a guest speaker in our class, used some of his 20% time to help the team developing the Google Scholar Legal Opinions project;  so very great things can come with the help of  small, individual efforts.

The National Inventory of Legal Materials is part of the Law.gov movement, which I’m very proud to say had its kickoff even on January 12, 2010 at Stanford Law School.

Law.gov is a very ambitious project.  And, as Jonathan Zittrain said at our January event, it might fail.  But as Professor Zittrain went on to say, even if it does fail, much good will come from the effort.

And one of those good things is the National Inventory of Legal Materials, which truly has great stand-alone value.

Anyone who questions the need for Law.gov need only to work on the National Inventory — it is a most eye-opening experience, and should make you advocate for Law.gov.

One small example:  NOCALL, the Northern California Association of Law Libraries (which has done model work on the California Inventory) has a listserv.  Last spring an S.O.S. went out over the NOCALL listserv:  A firm needed bound volumes of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) decisions.  The decisions are online, but with no way to cite them.  The firm needed the print volumes only to get cites for a brief.  Messengers were sent scrambling, while all the content sat online and unused.

We did our own little national inventory with the 42 students in our Advanced Legal Research class this past spring.  We had each student look at statutes/codes, cases, and regulations/administrative decisions for an assigned state.  One student found that her state posted its version of its public utilities decisions online with volume numbers, but no page numbers.  Close, but still no cigar for citation purposes.

But what shocked our students the most was the wide use of copyright assertion and the wider use of disclaimers.  So many states said, basically, “we’re posting these legal documents online but you can’t rely upon them.”  Our students, ever the cautious lawyers-in-training, won’t even use eCFR due to its warning that it is not an official source of the CFR.

I’d like to now suggest another reason to work on the National Inventory and that is to get this nice tag for your resume:

     Contributor, National Inventory of Legal Materials.

It’s just one little line.

It’s just six words:  Contributor. National. Inventory. [O]f. Legal. Materials.

Six words plus a comma that would tell an employer much about the candidate.  Six words (plus a comma) that, for me anyway, would really make a resume stand out from the pile.

The one line, those few words, would tell me that the candidate is aware; that he or she is involved; that he or she is a big-picture person.  It would tell me that the candidate is a producer — helping to produce positive change.  And it would tell me that the candidate is a “plate-spinner.”  We’re all busy, but a contributor is finding time to toss up one more plate — the National Inventory — and give it a spin as needed.   It’s needed.  The Inventory will never be “done” — it needs to be an organic document, kept evergreen by the contributors to reflect the latest developments.

As I mentioned before, Law.gov might ultimately fail.  But it might also succeed — there are some amazingly forceful and visionary people behind it.  But for Law.gov to succeed, we need to get everyone on the same page, and that page is the National Inventory of Legal Materials.

National Inventory of Legal Materials – Bits and Pieces

On Tuesday, June 15th, there will be a Law.gov event hosted by the Center for American Progress.   

For the event, I plan to share some of our preliminary findings.  Here are a few of the talking points:

The National Inventory of Legal Materials is an attempt to describe, detail and catalog where one can find the legal materials of our Federal, State and local systems.

At the first workshop held at Stanford, we were fortunate to have members of the Northern California Association of Law Librarians (NOCALL)  in attendance.  And, as a group we decided to develop a California prototype of the inventory.     

Since that time, we developed spreadsheets and forms.  And, we now have over 20 volunteers working on the California inventory which includes nearly 700 records.  Some of the information that we have gathered includes copyright assertions, disclaimers, official status and price information.  

And, as our project grew, so did the larger National Inventory.

Now there are 195 volunteers across the country working on federal and state level inventory projects, as it is now a full-fledged activity of the American Association of Law Libraries.  This project marries very nicely with AALL’s continued leadership and advocacy on  topics ranging from permanent public access to authentication to official status of online legal materials.   Much of this work draws and builds upon the fine work of the AALL Electronic Legal Information Access and Citation Committee.

[Also, our Advanced Legal Research class did a tremendous amount of research on National Inventory related questions this past quarter, and we are very grateful for their interest and discoveries.]

Here are a few of the preliminary findings:

At least eight  states assert copyright over their statutory codes online.

Preliminary research shows that  perhaps 42% of the states (or 21 states) assert copyright over their administrative codes online.

Apparently, only one state provides access to case law for a fee.

Almost every state’s online  legal resources include disclaimers, either to the status or reliability of the content.  (And: nearly none of these states had the same disclaimers in print equivalents of these resources.)

Given that the California inventory is nearly completed here are a few examples from California :

Of the nearly 540 municipalities and counties in California, most have online codes and ordinances; however, approximately 40% of these legal materials state that they are not “official” and have a strong Web disclaimer about the use of the online version.

Approximately 50%  of these codes have copyright assertions.

When we tried to determine if these materials were available in bulk access, we contacted a few of these municipalities.  And, our small sampling of these online materials found that none provided bulk access.

A typical disclaimer on these municipal codes might read:

“This code of ordinances may not reflect the most current legislation adopted by the municipality.  These documents are provided for informational purposes only.  These documents should not be relied upon as the definitive authority for local legislation.  Formatting and pagination varies from the official copy.  The official printed copy should be consulted prior to any action being taken”

To purchase these codes in print, the price starts at approximately 100 dollars (and going up beyond that). 

At the state level, the California administrative code is provided for free online by West but there is a copyright assertion and the cost for a subscription to the official print version is approximately $3500 per year.

Title 24, the building code is published separately and not part of the California Code of Regulations website.  The FAQs on this site direct you to visit the California Building Standards Commission that links you out to the International Code Council’s copyrighted site where you can view only one section at a time of the building code.

[Although we have not yet done so, it might be interesting  to check to see how many standards incorporated by reference are available freely on the California regulations site.]

As to the Attorney General opinions in California: you can find these in official form in print for approximately $400. 

If you visit the free version online, there is this disclaimer:  “Disclaimer of Duty to Continue Provision of the Data:  Due to the Dynamic nature of the internet, resources that are free and publicly available one day may require a fee or restrict access the next.”  

One of the executive agencies in California had full-text of administrative decisions on their site; however, without any pagination – which would be required if you were to cite to it in CA courts.

As to the courts, to gain access to the full archive of California Supreme Court cases you must click “agree” to a license preventing you from using the data for “nonprofit or public use.”

Further, the court site states:  “it is not intended to function as an alternative to commercial computer-based services and products for comprehensive legal research.”

The  Court opinion archive is provided by Lexis under contract with the State of California.

There is a free, archive of recent slip opinions on the California Court site, without a license click agreement; however, these are filed ‘as-is’ with edited/corrected versions only appearing on the other website. The slip opinion archive states: “This archive is not provided for purposes of legal research.”

Outside of California, here are a few highlights from other states:

Apparently, Delaware and Utah are the only states authenticating their online administrative code with digital signatures or MD5 hash.

It appears that only 7 states have clearly made their online administrative code of regulations official. 

Similar to California Courts, New Jersey’s Administrative Code has a license agreement you need to click through to view, preventing you from using the data for “nonprofit or public use.”

Vermont does not have an Administrative Code of Regulations online.

If you want to secure bulk access to the Arizona code of regulations, it will cost you upwards of $15,000.   Although, there is no charge for postage and handling.

If you want to get bulk access in Indiana, it might take a bit of time as each request is looked at on a case-by-case basis. 

Most states simply do not provide information on gaining bulk access to their legal materials.

There are a number of inconsistent examples.

Although Arkansas’s code of regulations is not fully available online and their Rules register is only official in print form,  Arkansas’ online court opinions are official, authenticated, and utilize medium neutral citation formats. 

If you want to look at Alabama appellate and supreme court opinions on the web, you will need to pay a fee – these are not freely available on the courts’ site.

Connecticut copyrights its appellate court opinions.

In Idaho all cited opinions are posted on the court’s website the day of release; however, once in West’s Pacific/Idaho reporter, the opinions are removed from their website.  And, Idaho has created a digital repository to provide for permanent public access to state agency materials.

If you go to the Vermont Legislature’s web pages, they provide the text of the Vermont statutes.  However, it states: “The Vermont Statutes Online is an unofficial copy. . . provided as a convenience. It has not been edited for publication. The ‘official’ version . . . is online at LexisNexis Publishing.”  However, by statute, the Legislative Council of the Vermont General Assembly is required to “maintain official computerized databases of the Vermont Statutes Annotated” and post them on the Web “with a seal of authenticity.”  

In Ohio, there are digital signatures on recent Supreme Court opinions showing authenticity; however, only the printed decisions are deemed official.  It also appears that both the Ohio Revised Code and Administrative Code are not official and bear a copyright assertion.

Oklahoma has been ahead of the curve on online legal information, and for some time has made freely available all Supreme Court opinions since 1890 and criminal appeals cases since 1908  on the court website.

Each of Oklahoma’s county and district courts have their records available online though one of two Web sites. 

However, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently issued a directive that “Public access to electronic case information is available on a case-by-case basis….. bulk distribution of electronic case information is not allowed.”

 And there is more, much more.  But enough for now.  I welcome your input and suggestions and corrections as this is a fluid and evolving project.

Law.gov: National Inventory of Legal Materials

Last week, Paul blogged about the Law.gov video from the first workshop held here at Stanford Law School on January 12th.   In his posting, Paul shared an op-ed from the New York Times entitled “A Nation of Do-It-Yourself Lawyers,” by California Chief Justice Ronald George and New Hampshire Chief Justice John T. Broderick Jr. that asks “how can we help those who are left to represent themselves in court?”

As a follow-up to that post, I want to share something else that Chief Justice Ronald M. George recently wrote.  “Access to Justice in Times of Fiscal Crisis” appears in the Fall, 2009 issue of the Golden Gate University Law Review.   Chief Justice George writes about the ‘historic reforms’ to the California court system: ‘trial court funding, court unification and facilities transfers’ and how these have “enhanced access to justice and provided a greater degree of accountability to the public.”

However, there are still problems.  As Chief Justice George writes:

“Courts in California currently operate more than 70 different case-management systems with about 130 variations.  These systems do not connect with one another and do not provide information across court and county jurisdictions…

We cannot afford to operate in an electronic Tower of Babel.”

Even though, Chief Justice George was only talking about the California courts’ case management systems, a ‘Tower of Babel’ frustration exists for anyone attempting to do legal research today.    Much of the legal research materials that we would consider primary aren’t freely available.  What is free often carries the warning that it can’t be relied upon or isn’t official.  For every state, there are different vendor relationships when it comes to publishing the codes and in assertion of copyright over that material.

The concept behind Law.gov might help reduce some of the confusion.  Law.gov is “an effort to create a report documenting exactly what it would take to create a distributed registry and repository of all primary legal materials in the United States.”

For Law.gov to work, we need to create a national inventory of all primary legal materials, and then some.  This inventory will be a packing list of sorts, describing, detailing, and cataloging where one can find the laws of our Federal and State systems.  And, not just the materials that we would define as ‘primary’ — we would want to note the availability of those items that are created as part of that process (from briefs and filings of attorneys to congressional testimony, etc).

How do we create the inventory?  To create this list, we will need the collaboration of librarians and researchers across the country.  From the creation of the categories that we would use for collecting the information to the data entry itself, this will take a lot (a lot) of volunteer effort from all sorts of folks.

To test the process, we should start small and local.  Because we were fortunate enough to have NOCALL folks at the first Law.gov workshop, it will begin here.  NOCALL now has a task force dedicated to creating a micro-inventory, focusing on California materials.  We are using a shared spreadsheet and just beginning to fill out rows and columns.

Questions abound:  should we include this format, what about copyright assertions, etc.    For now, the approach is simple: if we can start populating the spreadsheet, we can hammer out the problems later.  In fact, that is exactly the point of the series of Law.gov workshops, co-hosted by Carl Malamud and a number of law schools throughout the country.   The issues that come up in the creation of an inventory should be shared and discussed.

Perhaps, you are intrigued by this and want to know more, do more.  For starters, watch the video from the Stanford workshop.  And, try to attend one of the Law.gov workshops this year.  If you want to help on the inventory, please let us know.   What NOCALL is starting can and should be replicated in other areas.

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!