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Democracy in the Dark? 595

Posted by michael
from the headlight-of-an-oncoming-train dept.
scubacuda writes "Melissa Bar has written an insightful article on how Westlaw and Lexis Nexis restrict public access to case law databases. She writes, '[T]he courts and the court's words belong to us. In more ways than one, the American people have already paid for the case law produced by our courts. Commercial vendors must not be allowed to highjack our law or dictate who may have access to it. By refusing to allow public libraries to purchase electronic subscriptions that can serve their patrons, Westlaw and LexisNexis are closing the door on information.' Individually purchasing the documents over credit card is incredibly expensive, making it virtually inaccessible to most library patrons."
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Democracy in the Dark?

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  • Sooo... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jpellino (202698) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:14PM (#5295295)
    What if you wish to act as your own attorney? Seems like the deck is stacked towards the pros - while understandable for the companies that do this, it is nonetheless your right to represent yourself. This just makes it hard.
    • Re:Sooo... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by creative_name (459764)
      IANAL, but among them there is a saying that goes something like this: "A man who represents himself has a fool for an attorney."
    • Re:Sooo... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MikeTheYak (123496) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:33PM (#5295502)
      That's one reason attorneys get to demand the big bucks. There's a tremendous volume of case law and statutes which must be researched for any case. All that work has to be compensated somehow unless you want to do it yourself.

      What Lexis-Nexus and WestLaw have done is collate and cross-reference this incredible volume of data. Why shouldn't they be compensated for performing an immensely useful service by the people who use the service?

      If you want to see prohibitive expense, imagine what it would take to accumulate a law library with all of this information in print.

      It is your right to represent yourself, but there's no law that says that effective lawyerin' has to be easy or cheap.
      • Re:Sooo... (Score:2, Troll)

        by plague3106 (71849)
        It is your right to represent yourself, but there's no law that says that effective lawyerin' has to be easy or cheap.

        So you're saying then that only rich people should have access to an effective lawyer?
      • by tigris (192178) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:48PM (#5295639)
        She's not saying this information is free or should be free. She's saying that her public library can't even BUY access to these databases.

        From the article:

        "When our contract expired at the end of 2001, we attempted to negotiate a flat-rate Westlaw contract for all of the materials from the CD-ROMs, plus some other databases. We hoped to make legal databases available to the public at all of our branches, although with a limited number of concurrent users. Neither Westlaw nor LexisNexis was ready to offer such a contract to a public library. LexisNexis' Academic Universe product includes a legal database, but it is marketed only to schools and colleges. Public libraries cannot subscribe to Academic Universe. LexisNexis products available to public libraries don't have the legal database. Westlaw does not have any similar products.

        Bear in mind that West Group and LexisNexis, the two largest vendors of online legal information in the country, do not offer their online legal products to public libraries for patrons to use."

        And for those who say that the law is always available in hard copy volumes, I say that you can probably count on one hand the number of attorneys who don't, at some time, do research sweeps of Westlaw or Lexis Databases at some time during the research process. The volume of case law is simply too large and it's too easy to miss precedent if you rely only on hard copy.

        It's not fair to let only certain parties have access to this information in electronic format - it's not bomb-making information after all. I would also argue that it's not fair for Lexis and Westlaw to set the prices for these databases beyond the reach of public institutions like libraries. As her article describes, these two companies essentially have a lock on the markeplace. Last I heard, extortion still wasn't legal.
        • by Kupek (75469) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @02:30PM (#5295959)
          It's not fair to let only certain parties have access to this information in electronic format - it's not bomb-making information after all. I would also argue that it's not fair for Lexis and Westlaw to set the prices for these databases beyond the reach of public institutions like libraries.

          I agree. However, "not fair" is not the same as "not legal." I think that they have a moral imperative to allow access from public libraries, but I see no way in which they have a legal obligation to do so.

          I don't see how this is extortion.
          • Agreed - there isn't a legal obligation for Lexis and Westlaw to allow public libraries to purchase access to these databases.

            I think there's a pretty interesting parallel to be drawn to laws that forbid insurance companies and banks from redlining people who live in poor areas of town however. Information about the laws and court decisions that affect how these laws are implemented is information that shouldn't be restricted to people in certain classes (whether of wealth or education). And essentially that's what Lexis and Westlaw have done by refusing to sell access to the public libraries.

            And I know, I know. Hard copies of these laws are available. Speaking as someone who works in the legal field though, I can assure you that if you don't run an electronic search for precedent you will seriously disadvantage and undermine your case. And doing such a search manually would exponentially increase the time it takes to look for precedent, essentially putting such a search out of reach of anyone except retirees. Thus not allowing public libaries to buy access to these databases for their users places these individuals at a significant and crippling disadvantage to those who can. And that inequity is something we _should_ be worried about, since we all stand to lose if only the rich or those in certain classes (law students, journalists, legislators) can access the law in this fashion.

      • Re:Sooo... (Score:3, Flamebait)

        by Arcturax (454188)
        Remember that /. article about how a publically funded website of Scientific journals was shut down so companies can sell our taxpayer funded data back to us?

        If we could have science data online, why not a tax payer funded legal site?

        Of course since they killed the science one, you can bet that they won't create a law one either, at least not until we get someone with half a brain back into the presidency who will restore the science database and create a legal one for the public good, which is what our tax payer money should be going to instead of waging war on Iraq to loot their oil so we can drive our SUV's.
  • by Adam Rightmann (609216) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:16PM (#5295315)
    make so much more than IT people. All the lawyers references books are bound in leather and make matching sets, making an expensive, intimidating wall of knowledge buttressing their skills.

    In contrast, I look at my bookshelves, and see a hodge podge of O'Reilly books, Dummies books, Various OS Bibles (yeah, heretical, I know), few of which match, and few of which are leather bound.

    I'm hoping that once IT stabilizes, O'Reilly can come out with a huge set of matching leather bound tomes that would make an imposing background for my IT work. Then I can charge $100/hour.

    Of course, that would cost a lot, raising the barrier of entry, just like Lexus/Nexus does.
    • Only $100 an hour? Most IT consultants I know already get more than that. I've never met a lawyer that billed less than $150, and even that is ridiculously low. A first year associate, two months out of law school, is billed out at around $200 an hour by large firms.
  • Ummm... (Score:4, Informative)

    by NecroPuppy (222648) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:16PM (#5295320) Homepage
    It isn't like Lexus Nexus and Westlaw have a monopoly on the information. You can still look it up on your own. All these services do is provide convienence via their search engines.

    If you don't want to pay for it, look up the information yourself...
    • Re:Ummm... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GMontag (42283)
      I completely agree.

      Quite seriously, I do not understand one bit the 'logic' of the person that submitted this story.

      None of the sources cited prevent anybody from looking up and copying the paper copies, electronic versions from other sources, or anything else. They only limit the use of their own work!

      How this gets morphed into "Westlaw has an electronic copy therefore I should have it free" is beyond me.
    • No kidding (Score:4, Insightful)

      by M.C. Hampster (541262) <M.C.TheHampster@NOSPaM.gmail.com> on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:31PM (#5295473) Journal

      People don't understand that there was time, effort and money put into creating and maintaining these databases. The combination of an entitlement-oriented attitude and a lack of basic economic principles makes Slashdot seem like one big whine-fest sometimes.

      The information is available to all with no cost (or whatever cost the government may charge), just not through these services. You are paying for convenience.

      • You said a mouthfull. It's just like Linux, really. If you think about it: Linux is available totally free of charge, and you can do whatever you want with it once you have it. However, to get it in an easily usable form, you are going to have to pay someone who has done all the work for you(eg: a distrobution). Makes sense really. That way, you can get the information in several different forms and possibly for a better price/value rating.
    • Lexis-Nexis (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MacAndrew (463832) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:49PM (#5295645) Homepage
      I think "Lexus Nexus" is a car dealer somewhere.... :)

      Lexis (Nexis is for news; now I guess they're calling themselves LexisNexis) and Westlaw don't have a monopoly (duopoly?) over the public domain information they publish, nor do they just regurgitate public documents. They provide editorial enhancements such as headnotes (flagging various legal issues), in some cases data input (not all of gov't is electronically available, esp. scads of older ones), various ancillary services such as notification when an anticipated case is decided, and, most important of all, a very powerful keyword search engine that blows away any of the free online tools (for example, you can specify how far apart two search terms can be, and other dependencies). You can quickly access hyperlinked services, like a database that will show you every time a given case was mentioned in later decisions, and whether it was mentioned in a good light, disapporvingly, or overruled. These other services are valuable, but could be cheap if they were sold in large volume rather than a select few.

      For all this, they are very expensive. Very very expensive. LexisNexis and Westlaw are like a really cool drug that's coming off patent -- now anyone can do it. So let's run them out of business. I think it's a great idea, but we have to pay for somehow. For example, I'm surprised the author give short shrift to the laborious OCR scanning these companies did of old cases. Not only do the cases have to be scanned, but the resulting files have to be marked up for things like page numbers. The information is free, copying it is not -- even RMS says that.

      It is more urgent than the author makes it out to be: it is becoming nearly imperitive to have access to these databases to practice law. Judges really do expect you to know about that case that came down 12 hours ago. The volume of decisions published increses exponentially. When the time required to hunt down the books becomes more expensive than the cost of using the database, a rich firm luxury becomes critical.

      I think we shouldn't ask "how can we force these guys to lower prices" but "why isn't there an affordable public database of this material". Not just a server crammed with decisions, but also an affordable method of searching it. There is just so much data now that the Library of Congress card catalog is obsolete.

      It would not be too much to expect the subscriber to contribute their own processing power to the task, or even to somehow distribute encrypted duplicates of various documents around the Net to make a huge, redundant, high performance database. Besides helping litiagants, this would also help the courts by fostering better lawyering, and help the people to learn about the law for itself.

      Why not do it right now? Oh yeah, this would be really expensive. But as firms like Google have shown, there are high-performance distributed solutions that work.
      • Re:Lexis-Nexis (Score:3, Informative)

        by paitre (32242)
        Having worked for a now defunct company that -did- want to try to provide a lowcost alternative to Westlaw and LexisNexis, I have a pretty good idea how expensive it'd be.

        Anyone have a few tens of millions dollars laying around?

        You have hardware (which is comparatively cheap).
        You have scanning and OCR work (which is the most labor and time intensive part).
        You have the delivery of information costs (which can get expensive with millions of hits a month)
        You have the software development costs (which aren't as expensive as any of the aforementioned, except maybe hardware).

        You're talking about many millions of bucks to get something even rudimentary up and running.
        it sucks.
      • Re:Lexis-Nexis (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tf23 (27474)
        laborious OCR scanning

        Actually, it's probably not OCR'd. Most places hire people, in triplicate, to TYPE it. I've heard the term triple-keyed used to describe it.

        It is supposed to greatly improve accuracy. But it is also very, very, costly to have done.

        why isn't there an affordable public database of this material

        There will be - eventually, because state's state houses are constantly moving everything to be digital. In the future, court records won't be on paper. And there's your public DB.

        Where the states will have a hard time is the prior history of records that are on paper. There's many many years worth, for each state. And *that* is where the private companies will continue to thrive.

    • Re:Ummm... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DDX_2002 (592881)
      Why doesn't Lexis sell flat rate to libraries? Becasue they can't afford it at the per seat rates that would be charged anyhow so why bother, because untrained users would thrash the databases with poor search strategies and still never be able to actually find what they're looking for (every law student takes a course in research strategies, even with Lexis access most wouldn't be able to figure out what they needed let alone find it), and because the tech support costs of that many non-legally trained searchers being added to the network would be monstrous. Lexis' most valuable service is its 1-800 number - problem with a search, can't quite find the right keywords? Call Lexis, they'll e-mail you the search result. Seriously - at least here in Canada, their customer service is *good*. But that's because only lawyers, law librarians and law students call them - we can narrow it down a lot, and we aren't asking legal advice. They couldn't offer that service to the general public.

      The bottom line is that the law is open source. No one can copyright the court decisions or codes themselves, only the particular editions and finding aids that are value added by the legal publishers.

      There's nothing stopping the ALA from putting together a consortium to offer complete online legal research services to public libraries across the country... except the tens of millions of dollars required to scan, correct, cross reference and upload every case since the 19th century into a database, the staff of hundreds of people who have to update that database every single day with the new cases released by every court in the US, Canada, Australia, all of the European Union, every federal, state and provincial tribunal in all of those jurisdictions, every law review article published in all those countries, and so on and so on.

      Lexis charges hundreds of dollars an hour for a reason, and it's not that they're gouging.

  • I have an idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    ...let's charge a tax to build an infrastructure to house all these documents. Someone has to pay for the resources.
    • Re:I have an idea (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BreadMan (178060)
      I think this is called income tax :-)

      But a do agree that one of the jobs of government is to make public information public; until about 20 years ago, the best they could do was paper.

      Now I think the concept of publicly available information should mean electronic with full text indexing.
  • Umm (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mr_Silver (213637)
    Am I missing something, or is she missing the point that it costs time and money to put these documents onto their service?

    Granted, they should also go into the public domain - but forcing LexusNexus to open up their database seems rather extreme and wholly unfeasable.

  • Privacy concerns (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    While commercial monopoly of these public records are definitely not a good thing. Neither is absolute open access. Because these databases contain so much personal information that a friend of mine who had access to the database was absolutely alarmed. I think it would be great if there is a public abstract service that take out the personal information but preserve the legal arguments so that it gives the public a snap shot of legal arguments in cases of interest.
  • Rights (Score:3, Informative)

    by patch-rustem (641321) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:19PM (#5295355) Homepage Journal
    You have a right to go to the court building and see the records. You don't have any right to Westlaw and Lexis Nexis databases unless you pay. That's the American way. IANAL ;-)
  • by MrMagooAZ (595319) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:20PM (#5295361)
    The issue presented is interesting. The information in these legal databases is published available in many libraries in book form to anyone who wants it. In Phoenix alone, I can go to the state capitol building or the law library at Arizona State University and get the text of any case (Federal or State) I want, pay the 15-cent a page copy fee (or whatever it is now) and take it with me. How is it then that this information is being kept from me by it not being available in electronic form?
    • by minitrue (213792) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @03:15PM (#5296305)
      I live in NYC and I have a car. The other week, my car was towed. One of the worst things that can happen to someone with a car here is to have it towed. Recovering your car can take up to eight hours and if you don't have the proper information, it can be near impossible to get it back.

      First, you have to call the Department of Transportation and find out who towed your car (DOT, or Sheriff). From there, the agency can tell you which pound it is in (one of five locations). Once you are there, you stand on line for close to an hour on a good day and if you don't have the correct combination of documents and the payment in full ($250+), you're screwed. Even if you have all of this, it usually takes the clerk a good 10-15 minutes to look up the ticket number to even begin processing your paperwork. If you're missing information, you have to fill forms and wait on line again. Usually the people you see having these problems are working class, ethnic (white & non-white) peoples who complain that they weren't "told that on the phone" and find themselves waiting on line for hours.

      Because I was able to go and get a print out of all of my towing info online [nyc.gov] - including the elusive ticket number - I was able to show this to the clerk, pay the charge, and be out of there in under 30 minutes. Needless to say, everyone else on line was pissed. Before I left, I spent a couple of minutes explaining to people how to go to the library and look up their info online.

      This might seem inconsequential to you, but for me, it was the first time I had seen the digital divide as something real. Having electronic access to a searchable database at the tips of my fingers saved me time and energy that I was able to put towards more important work. It was a weekday, but I had only lost three hours of work and fortunately I'm salaried. If you consider that a good portion of the people standing on line were probably hourly employees who were probably missing work, which means that they weren't getting paid, electronic access makes a huge difference.
  • EU Example (Score:5, Informative)

    by NigelJohnstone (242811) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:20PM (#5295364)

    I don't always agree with the EU decisions, but:

    http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/en/search/search_case .html [eu.int]

    This is how the EU handles it - case law in a free searchable online database.

  • Call me a commie, but I don't see why there shouldn't be heavy regulation of how much money lawyers can make. You don't want a profit motive with lawyers. Most people who go through law school do so so that they can be another tobacco lawsuit lawyer or something similar. Lawsuits have a seriously damaging effect and are most of the time frivolous. Hell most that aren't could be resolved without lawyers. Two people get up, state their claims, rebut each other and the jury decides from that. The only people in favor of letting lawyers make whatever they want to charge are the same people who see the government as the perfect hammer, fit for every nail produced by man or nature.
    • Re:Lawyers........ (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dirk Pitt (90561) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:55PM (#5295695) Homepage
      You don't want a profit motive with lawyers
      Sooooo what again would be their motive for doing a good job? More on this later...

      Most people who go through law school do so so that they can be another tobacco lawsuit lawyer
      Wow, you must not know many lawyers -- MOST lawyers don't end up being litigators. I don't have numbers in hand, but I'll hazard a guess by saying an overwhelming majority of lawyers are paper pushers. And most litigators I know are Public Defenders, DAs, and so forth. Most *lawyers* I know are property lawyers, divorce lawyers, etc. These are people that are paid fairly for hard work in the interpretation of *extremely* complex rules and laws.

      most of the time frivolous
      Do you have data to support this? I agree that we need tort reform, but I also know some people that received well-deserved judgements for damages from bad car accidents, assaults, and other physical and emotional harm that occured because of intent or negligence. Don't believe that everything you see on '60 Minutes' is representative of our legal system.

      Hell most that aren't could be resolved without lawyers
      Umm...most are settled without lawyers, that's what small claims court is for.

      The only people in favor of letting lawyers make whatever they want to charge are the same people who see the government as the perfect hammer, fit for every nail produced by man or nature
      I have no idea what this means or what these two things have in common. Lawyers don't make 'whatever they want', they make what people are willing to pay them. It's a complex, often time consuming job, and the command a high price for their work and talent. What's next, engineers shouldn't be paid so much, doctors, city workers? Why should lawyers be singled out? Part of the reason socialist cultures tends to mire in mediocrity is because people don't have any reason or reward for their ambition.

  • by Limburgher (523006) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:21PM (#5295379) Homepage Journal
    I mean, this material is some of the most fundamental in terms of its effects on our legal system and legislative history. Access should be easy. Searchable. Free. Does a resource like this exist? Like, perhaps a web site where I can ask the system to essentially grep all case law from, say, Illinois and Arizona, containing the words "protection clause" and "eminent domain"? Would have helped with my Poly Sci minor. I had a concentration in Constitutional law, and at the time, web resources were there, but incomplete.
    • Let me ask you this: Did you pay for your textbooks? I hope so.

      Keep that in mind next time you ask for the world on a platter, for free.

      Seriously though, the information is all there, for free even. You just have to do what those in Library Science call "research" on your own instead of using a search engine. That's why you have to pay for it(I'm not saying the price is right... it's far to high these days).

    • Actually, the case law is free - uncopyrighted - like in speech and like in beer - its just scattered all over the country in regional libraries and somewhat disorganized, plus the cases are without any synopsis. That is the service Lexis and Westlaw charge for - organization and distribution.

      Unfortunately, this organization and distribution is a lot of work that few people care about - which is why the few people who do care about it pay a lot for access to Lexis and Westlaw. - goodl ol' suppy and demand

      Perhaps what is in order is some sort of open source project, similar to the gutenberg project? There is no legal reason this can't be done... The matierial (without the exception of the synopsis part) is not copyrighted or restricted in any way...

      • You really have never used one of these services. Let me put it this way. All of westlaw is a gigantic text database. Most cases are in a text format. Their search system sucks balls. Hooking up a google box to a hard disk with all of those files would be a preferable alternative.

        West had a good idea with those key cites 100 years ago, but a default index system in google would work just as well.

        There is NOTHING particularly complex about these sites. We have text files which contain case info, which is taken verbatim from the court. The summaries are of dubious value, and the first thing they will tell you in law school is to not use the headnotes are summaries. Read the case.

        goodl ol' suppy and demand

        Thats right. Here we have a small supply, and huge demand, thus high prices. Read the article. The lexis people describe their discount rate as being $9 per CASE.

        Perhaps what is in order is some sort of open source project, similar to the gutenberg project? There is no legal reason this can't be done...

        There was such a project, it was called FindLaw.com. Westlaw purchased the site in 2001. Now it sucks. What a surprise.

  • 'Westlaw and LexisNexis are closing the door on information'

    "Beware of he who denies you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master."--Commissioner Pravin Lal, U.N. Declaration of Rights.
  • These companies supply a service. They don't have to give it out to anyone that wants it...they have the right to restrict it however they want.

    The information can be gotten in other ways, not just through Lexus/Nexus.... Sure, it's easier to do it that way, but THEY created that easy of use, and if they don't want to sell it to libraries so people can get it for free, they don't have to.

  • I hate to break it to you Melissa Bar, but LN and WL databases don't magically put themselves together. Anyone with an inking of computer knowledge understands what a major acomplishment this is and how much time and effort they took to set up and maintain.

    If you want free information, go to a law library. Bam. Free information. But don't expect every great and important service to be free just because it "restricts access" to freeloaders.

    Witold
    www.witold.org
  • by Superfreaker (581067) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:26PM (#5295424) Homepage Journal
    www.findlaw.com

    My roomate who is a corp lier in NYC uses findlaw.com when he is doing casual research, since he normally has to bill his Lexus time out to a client at a huge fee.

    Google Law anyone?

    "The only thing I enjoy more than doing the crossword puzzel, is actually finishing it."

    • Google Law anyone?

      I'm sure these three words strike absolute terror into the hearts of the owners of Lexus Nexus and WestLaw.

      • No, I doubt they cause LexisNexis any worries at all - the value added is the headnotes, cross linking and procedural history links.

        The phrase "google law" strikes fear into the hearts of judges, clerks and court registries, however, as they foresee a flood of caselaw handed up by self-represented litigants, none of which are on point, some of which were overturned on appeal [but this fact isn't apparent from a keyword search], and most of which don't actually mean what the litigant thinks they do.

        • Procedural history is not as difficult to impliment as you think. Multi-dimensional databases far more complex than Westlaw or Lexis track this sort of information all the time.

          And remember, one really only has to care about the courts in their jurisdiction. Its not hard to search for the citation itself. So it won't be as nice as a little pretty flag, but it won't take long to figure out if the case published in the state supreme court overturned the case, affirmed it, or just commented on it.

          That is with a simple keyword search like you state. More sophisticated algoritms will take care of all that. I mean, do you really think Westlaw has people compiling their entire database? Especially of administrative code rulings? There is a high degree of automation, and it will only get better with time.

          Google is just the beginning.
  • Quit Whining (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ajakk (29927) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:26PM (#5295426) Homepage
    You can get access to case law from the courts themselves. Westlaw and Lexis provide a service allowing people to get this case law electronically and indexed very well. Don't we support companies value adding services to free information and charging for it? Isn't that the entire basis of the GNU public license. Some courts are putting their decisions online, where you can get it as well. But Westlaw and Lexis employ people to put all of this information together in a database, index it, and write abstracts. What is wrong with them charging for that?
  • Not really.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Without going into the debate over whether lawyers suck, etc... In the article, the author gives 2 competing services that libraries can utilize that are in direct competition. While the author may not like Lexis or WestLaw, there are other options available online, not the mention the old tried and true way of getting your ass down to the courthouse and using the law library there!!! I have never been in a courthouse that didn't have a publicly available law library.
  • by Steveftoth (78419) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:27PM (#5295439) Homepage
    I hope that Ms. Barr realizes that she is a troll, but sadly most do not even know what they are doing.

    Lexis Nexus and Westlaw don't own a monopoly on the law, but they do have a monopoly on publishing it via the internet. The only thing that I would like to see is ability for more companies to be able to publish the law, creating competition for these seach engines.

    It's expensive to keep all that data online , easily referenced, and searchable. But that doesn't mean that they should be able to gouge us. More competition in this area would be good.

    Also, these guys should really talk to google, Lexis Nexus lets you search for free, (though payment is required for viewing). What about a search on Google that mixed references to the law in with your normal search results?
  • by morpheus 2001 (594709) <slashdot34566543 ... m ['hoo' in gap]> on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:28PM (#5295451)
    I find this article to be just a bit whiny. Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw are not hijacking caselaw. Anyone that needs to access the caselaw can go into any library at a lawschool and search through the many, many, many indicies to find the cases and law reviews that they need to gain access to. I find it amazing that people expect to get access to something for free, especially when there has been a huge expense in creating the infrastructure to provide these resources. 15-20 years ago EVERY lawyer had to "look in the books" to find the caselaw that they wanted to cite. Now, it is easier, because of computerized search engines.

    Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw are not like google, where google just creates a large cache of webpages. Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw also provide analyses of the various cases in their databases, as well as a list of every case that has ever cited the case that you are currently read and whether those cases agreed or disagreed with the outcome. The citatations can be extremely important to have because a lawyer does not want to cite a case that has been overruled by a higher court. To provide this service takes money, alot of money. It takes alot of employees to manually check everything is typed in perfectly and it takes alot of computer equipment to run the who database.
  • by hrieke (126185) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:29PM (#5295455) Homepage
    There are plently of companies which do this with public data, not just WestLaw, LexisNexis, who are the largest in their field.

    The problem is this: The government either outsources the electronic publication of their information, or these companies hired people to go out and scan the public documents.
    If it is the latter, then they have every right to charge access to their database- they've complied the data on their dime! However, if the government outsourced the publication, then the database should fall into public domain.

    I recall one other database which did title searches on property, which were built completely from public data, and was sold back to the county and state because such a tool did not exisit until then, and to redevelop such a tool wasn't worth the effort (at the time). The data was public domain, but the relationships inside the DB was not.
  • by jqh1 (212455) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:29PM (#5295457) Homepage
    In the early nineties, I worked on a website: the Legal Information Institute [cornell.edu], which is still going strong, I think. Our goal was to provide public legal info for free. We got our opinions straight from the courts, and (at least then) maintained local copies of legislative text (eg, US Code).

    Lexis and Westlaw were going strong back then, too. As tempting as it may have been to just lift their versions of the documents we wanted to publish, we didn't. Their versions were copyrighted, just like a map maker can copyright a map. Following with that analogy, their versions (I believed) even contained intentional, hopefully harmless typographical errors to prove up theft. They also added value by providing analysis and indexing (keyword, etc.) that were totally absent from the public text.

    So the point is -- contribute! There are dis-aggregated (free) sources for most of the public information anyone could want. The trick is bringing them together and providing useful analysis. We've done (IMO) a great job of that at LII, and there are other sites as well. When you start to appreciate the labor involved in providing such a service, you start to see why Lexis and Westlaw charge...

  • Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by r_j_prahad (309298) <r_j_prahadNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:29PM (#5295460)
    I'm afraid I don't understand this complaint. I can go down to my local state courthouse, wherein is housed a law library, which is publicly accessible, and avail myself of anything that West pubishes. I don't have to be an attorney to get in; the only difference between this and a public library is that you can't check anything out. I can even get printouts and copies made at the cost of reproduction only. There's a librarian there to help find stuff, although there's a plethora of signs reiterating the obvious - that they cannot offer legal advice.
  • by Nurlman (448649) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:30PM (#5295467)
    This article is a misdirected rant. It is beyond dispute that Lexis, Westlaw, et al. do not own any copyright to public records-- i.e. the actual text of the case decisions. What they do own-- and rightly charge for-- are enhancements they provide: case summaries, research aids, and, yes, the text in a searchable electronic database. It costs them money to develop these aids, and there's nothing wrong with charging for them.

    The public is not deprived of access to the actual law-- every law school, almost every courthouse, and many large universities have collections of case reporters, statutes, and other legal materials in book form. Are they as easy to search as an electronic database? No. But they are available and can be used without charge, and, in the hands of a knowledgable person, used as effectively (if not more so*) as databases.

    Contrary to the author's position, the internet has made the law much more accessible to regular people than it was a decade ago. Free databases may not have all of the old cases that pay services do, but they represent a huge step forward when compared to pre-internet days. Moreover, for most people untrained in the law, old caselaw is of much less use than current decisions.

    *Databases like Lexis and Westlaw are, in some ways, harmful to non-lawyers. It is easy to simply plug words into a search query and assume that the result is reflective of the law on a particular issue. In fact, careful analysis of legal precedent is difficult, and to the untrained, legal databases can yield results that are more misleading than traditional book research, where points of law in a particular category were grouped together, allowing a researcher to see the development of trends or dissenting views.
  • Case law is too important for there not to be a cheap and convenient electronically searchable index. Access - inexpensive and convenient access - is crucial.

    Either Lexis and WestLaw should do the right thing here, or the government should invest in putting cases on-line at least so Google can index them.

    --Pat / zippy@cs.brandeis.edu

  • by Raetsel (34442) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:33PM (#5295498)

    When I went to college, the entire school was eligible for the university's Lexis-Nexis site license. This didn't mean just the law school... this meant everybody. Software was available that I could have loaded on my PC, and I could have searched from my dorm room.

    The university's library computers (and computer labs) had the software on them as well.

    Now here's the interesting part -- if you were a resident of the surrounding towns (not affiliated with the university in any other way!), you were eligible to use the library -- and all its' resources.

    Yes, that included Lexis-Nexis. (And JAMA, and The Lancet, and a hundred other publications that cost more than some cars.)

    I have no illusions -- Lexis-Nexis was getting a considerable amount of money for allowing such use... far more than they'd ever be able to wring out of a public library. The university needed the subscription, it was just a happy circumstance that everyone else benefited.

    Here's to libraries with deep pockets.

  • I have to say Meah.

    Nexis has files on over 1.6 billion people on earth -- everything from what kinds of pizzas your ordered, how you paid for it, what you had on your last one -- to credit information, sweepstakes entries, court records, voting registration, sometimes even travel information, often they collect corporate applications for employment and resumes "truth maintainence" as well.

    In comparison to "So they want you to pay per page on case law" -- their other activities make them a far more sinister corporation. Of course, your disgruntal ex spouse with the restraining order & .357 has to pay them a fee to get your new address. So does the mafia hit man. It's priced at a level that makes it merely a corporate tool for enslaving the masses. Plus companies love that they can make a few bucks selling your data to them.

    Don't think your enemies can't find you with it either. Paid your taxes? Got a credit card? Bank account? Registered to vote? Entered a sweepstakes? Mailed in a warranty registration card? Bought a car? Bought a house (deed records)? Live in one of those states that sells drivers license data? Subscribe to any magazines? BMG record club? Bought a Domino's pizza? Even the act of filing the restraining order ...searchable. Stayed at a major hotel/motel chain? Rented an apartment that required a credit check? -- People have been hunted down and killed this way. Abortion doctors, lawyers, spouses, people that owed money to loan sharks, witnesses...etc

    You can make your phone number unlisted, change your name, move, open up new accounts -- and their service will even index the changes. So don't think that will help you either.

    Onto the topic at hand.. Why isn't Uncle Sam indexing the case files and entering them all to be searchable over the internet?

  • The reason that Nexis Lexis and Westlaw don't allow libraries to sign up is the obvious theft that will occur. They have product and they produce and sell it profitably but the library business is a loser.

    And sure you can put up your own version if you have lots of money for servers and bandwidth. It would be an interesting exercise to see how far computer prices and bandwidth would have to come down before you could have a Google like service or one that would be a flat rate.

    • This is just hoopla. Libraries are allowed to subscribe. I work in a University Library and we have access to LN. We might not be able to pay for it for too much longer(our budget keeps getting cut) but we've had it for quite some time now.
  • IAALS (I am a law student). There is no restriction on the actual court documents. You can get them free from a variety of sources. In fact, odds are, if you go to your local law school library, there is probably a referrence assistant sitting at a desk who would love to help you find exactly what you need. (It is a slightly complex system simply because there are *so* many documents to catalog.)

    However, to call it a right to get it from Westlaw or LexisNexis (who pays for the hosting, the translation of the documents to electronic format, the additional features such as cross-referrencing, case history, and search tracking, in addition to having access to hundreds of law journals that are not public domain), ignores all the investment they put into it. Not to be a jerk, but if you think it should be free, you can go do it yourself and bear the cost of it.

    I am the first to admit that there is too much money and greed in the legal system. Westlaw and LexisNexis are not to blame for that.
  • I asked a lawyer about this the other night. He said that WestLaw in particular offers laws with references to cases. Kind of a cross reference. They pay a lot of lawyers to sit around and write stuff to add value to their content. It's not simply a search engine for court records, there's a lot of value add. That's why WestLaw can charge $300 a month per lawyer.

    I don't think it's the same thing as bottling up our case law and making it inaccessable. Anyone can create a competing service, but I think you'd have a lot of work cut out trying to match the value that WestLaw provides.
  • by M.C. Hampster (541262) <M.C.TheHampster@NOSPaM.gmail.com> on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:38PM (#5295562) Journal

    Why is it that so many proponents of OSS don't carry their philosophy over to free economic activity? Rather than complain about how Westlaw and Lexus Nexus should lower prices or give their information for free, why don't you start up your own searchable database? Why not get a group together to do so? That's how it works in capitalism folks.

    If they truly are "gouging" us with prices, and the entire service could be offered considerably cheaper, then offer it yourself!

  • by czarneki (622927) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:40PM (#5295568)

    Westlaw and Lexis provide an incredibly valuable service: they make the millions of judicial opinions actually useful for lawyers. Basically, they are like the google for judicial documents, except that in order to index all this information, they have to use teams of lawyers rather than pigeon clusters. We do not yet have sufficient technical knowledge to index judicial opinions, and so for now this process is very labor-intensive.

    For example, Westlaw and Lexis have teams of lawyers to read over every decision as soon as it's handed down. They have to parse through the legalese to make a judgment about whether the case narrowed some precedent or broadened it. They need to find the most important passages in the opinion and put those clippings into conceptual pigeonholes (the "West Topic and Key" classification system defies comprehension). They need to write little summaries for each of these important passages so that lawyers glancing through thousands of query results will know whether something is relevant (these "Headnotes" are difficult to write). None of these tasks are easy. Not only can we not yet automate them, but a person not trained as a lawyer won't even recognize the relevant things to pick up on. Westlaw and Lexis really do spend an enormous amount of *expensive* human capital (these lawyers don't come cheap) to do the human indexing of the semantic web of legal documents, and that's what they are charging for. Law firms gladly pay up because using the index form Westlaw or Lexis gives you such an advantage over your adversary if he's stucking doing research with law books that he has no chance. The big lawyers these days never touch law books -- they are too disorganized and slow.

    Thus, these companies have not "hijacked" the actual collection of case opinions. Even if they wanted to, they can't. Judicial opinions and statutes, like other governmental work products, enjoy no copyright protection whatsoever. This is why you are free to post as many gigabytes of Supreme Court opinions for free downloading as you like.

    But just getting the opinions is useless. Either we come up with a technical means to index these documents as effectively as the teams of lawyers at Westlaw (very difficult) or we decide that in the public interest we need to use some of our tax money to support a public interest effort to make a similar database for the public (even more difficult).

  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:40PM (#5295571)
    Some cities and jurisdictions are finding out that maybe not all cases and information should be easily searchable on the web.

    Consider a divorce case. Names, addresses, financial records, employment records, etc, etc.
    Home assesment value, taxes.
    Now match that against the (sometimes) public bulding permits. Home floorplans and dimensions.

    Armed with a little research from the comfort of his own home, a would be burgular or stalker could case the home of a recently divorced woman, figuring out vulnerable access points, when she's at work...a photo from Terraserver [terraserver.com], and you can sometimes see fences and tree lines.
    Do the job with no one the wiser.

    Some things should be hard to get.
  • The responses saying that you can just look up this information yourself are missing the point - if you are representing yourself or researching a legal threat you have received to see if it's worth hiring a lawyer, accessing this sort of information in a timely way is critical.

    If these companies can't provide access at reasonable rates (note that the libraries ARE offering to pay for the companies' work), isn't there a case for the government to (threaten to) provide a similar free service, for the public good? That would incidentally put the companies out of business, but that's too bad. They're basing their services on documents that the state provides.

    Of course, the government would never do this in a country where commercial publishers can shut down government sites [fcw.com] just by asking nicely.

  • by enkidu87 (194878) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:45PM (#5295613)
    Lexis and Westlaw provide very valuable services. They do not meerly post the text of the case.

    Westlaw and Lexis have a search system which make web search engines look like a children's toy. Also, theattorneys who review _each_ of these cases provide lengthey head notes and check to make sure that each case is still good law. This is all very expensive to maintain.

    If they were to allow public libraries to use these systems, lawyers would just send their clerks (who are generally students) to the local public library. How will they then make any money? If they go out of business, you are right back to using books. Not an easy task for someone who does not know what they are doing.

    Private entities, such as corporations (gasp!) and individuals are free to purchase these services.

    As someone who uses Westlaw every day, I am very grateful for its existence. It would be a shame if some whiney, "everything should be free" leftists ruined such a great resource.
  • monopolies (Score:4, Insightful)

    by syle (638903) <syle@wayga t e .org> on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:55PM (#5295694) Homepage
    And on top of that, the grocery store tries to CHARGE me for bottled water!

    It rains from the sky and runs through rivers, so I could get it at no charge from there. Why doesn't the store give it to me for free?

    They're restricting public access to the water!

  • by briancnorton (586947) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @01:58PM (#5295726) Homepage
    what a bunch of jerks that wont give away their hard work for free. Viva la information!

    Seriously though, Title 17 states that all government works are to be free and available. There are state funded universities and libraries that maintain HUGE collections of government documents that you can use for absolutely no charge. These databases are Value-Added services. I dont go demand a free GPS unit from garmin because the satellites are owned by the govt.

  • Missing the POINT! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by trix_e (202696) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @02:00PM (#5295739)
    once again slashdotters wade in without regard to the facts...

    The problems with Westlaw and to a lesser degree Lexis/Nexis are NOT that they are claiming to own the law -- OR the ability to search their damn databases...

    1) Many jurisdictions sign contracts for these companies to be the *official* source of caselaw and statutes, and while some of the jurisdictions make adequate provisions for full and open public access, many don't and that leaves folks with minimal resources in very bad positions with regards to access. they don't make it easy to get info when they're not required to.

    2) And this is a biggie... While West Pub. isn't claiming copyright on the actual law itself, they do claim copyright to the citation system. i.e. how one refers to a case when you're writing a brief, etc. Many jurisdictions *require* you to cite using a West method. When another service tries to duplicate this, West sues their asses off. So you can't do research someplace else and then be able to properly cite your sources unless you use the West service to get the proper cite. Sure, you can go to the library and find the West dead-tree version and get the cite, but that pretty much kills all the benefit of electronic research don't it??

    I don't lay the blame with the publishers... they're just capitalist swine like the rest of us trying to maximize their $$ (albeit in a fairly ruthless fashion if you ask me...), I blame the various govts for supporting these pseudo-monopolies for so long... the legal publishers and the legal policy makers are so deep in bed with each other it is sickening... hmmmm... wonder why there hasn't been more reform before now...

    my .02c

  • by nightsweat (604367) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @02:09PM (#5295819)
    Westlaw has a huge advantage over all other comers as they do not copyright the case law, but DO copyright the page numbers.

    Without a Westlaw page number, it is very difficult to cite a case in a court. Our law librarian used to rage on about this.

  • by debest (471937) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @02:20PM (#5295889)
    Here [slashdot.org] is a story from almost two years ago on a case where there was a debate on the text of the law itself being copyrighted by a company. Seems a guy had the temerity to believe that since he and all his neighbours were bound by the regulations of the local building code, he should be able to post that text on the web. A court had ruled that he could not do this, that a company owned all rights to publication of the code.

    This story today is not even on the same plane. Neither of these companies claim to own the text (the content) of the law they catalog: all they do is make it far more convenient to search. That's a service, nothing more. Sure, it would be nice if the government made an effort to publish the law for the public in a way that didn't require these expensive services, but they don't. Complain to Congress about it: it's not LexisNexis' fault! Without their service, who knows, you might be spending even MORE for a lawyer who has to do manual research through paper books and such.
  • by serutan (259622) <snoopdougNO@SPAMgeekazon.com> on Thursday February 13, 2003 @02:34PM (#5296008) Homepage
    Companies certainly shouldn't be given copyrights on laws, building codes etc, which the public paid to create. On the other hand, if somebody like Westlaw has taken the trouble to produce a legal database searching system that is faster or better than what's publicly available, I don't see that they have to give it away for free. Finding and filtering the information is a valuable service.

    Such services should be publicly available, but rather than force the companies to give them away I would rather see the government hire these companies as contractors to produce public access systems. Certainly don't give them ownership of information, but by all means pay them to do the job of organizing it and to produce access engines that the public, including libraries, can use.

    It seems incredible that people have to pay someone $100/hour to tell them if something they want to do is legal. Yet the list of legally hazardous activities grows constantly as the law gets more complex. This is something computers can definitely change, and case law databases are only the beginning. Imagine a legal expert system that would listen to your situation and give you a competent legal opinion, whether it's for a criminal defense or adding a second story to your house. I doubt that such systems will exist anytime soon, but I hope that when they do the government will have the foresight to buy them from the developers and make them freely available.
  • Just like RIAA? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chope (535318) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @03:10PM (#5296266) Homepage
    I think many of the ./ posters are missing the point. This isn't about Lexus/Nexus and Westlaw being denied reasonable profits. It's about using their near-monopoly to set prices and purchase terms that are at odds with the public interest. Some insight is buried in Lexus response: "although none of the plans would allow her to do what she wanted to do -- give unlimited, unmediated access in multiple locations to the LexisNexis legal information service at an unrealistic price."

    Ms. Barr was not asking for unlimited access, although concurrent access is not a popular option for commercial software publishers these days. More importantly, she was asking for unmediated access - which Lexus evidently feels is inappropriate for the unwashed masses.

    How is this different from the RIAA flexing it's muscle to stop file sharing? Aren't those also copyrighted works? Aren't the record publishers also entitled to reasonable profits? (Yes, I'm playing the devil's advocate here.) It's seems the ./'ers are a bit of a hypocritical bunch...
  • by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Thursday February 13, 2003 @03:41PM (#5296488) Homepage

    Be forwarned, IAAL. However, I am not associated with either company.

    While the law itself is open and available to everyone free of charge, its analysis does cost money. This is similar to the situation with various linux distributions. The OS is free, but if you want expert help, you have to hire someone unless you are an expert yourself.

    Free sources of law in Washington State: Washington State Cases, Laws, Regs, etc [legalwa.org] Laws, Regs, etc. [wa.gov]. These are even searchable.

    What you get with Westlaw (I'm most familiar with it) and Lexis (I presume) is a very powerful search engine, coupled with analysis generated by those companies. By looking in the free sources published by the government, one can access the law (statutes, cases, etc). For statutes, Westlaw provides not just the text of the law, it also provides a short synopsis of most cases which have interpreted that law. West does a similar thing with case law and organizes its headnote information by "key number". All of that analysis speeds up research - but it is generated by someone who works for the companies - not for the government.

    The point is, Westlaw etc. are merely adding value to something that is freely available to make it more useable. That's what any number of open source software companies do - just in a different context.

  • by Eric Damron (553630) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @04:04PM (#5296673)
    Yes, the law belongs to all of us but their server access belongs to them. If Westlaw and LexisNexis want to charge money to use the bandwith and servers that they pay for then that's fine.

    Not everything is free as in beer!

  • by praksys (246544) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @04:04PM (#5296674) Homepage
    I am often struck by how the same issues come up again and again in history, and how often past struggles for liberty have to be repeated. This struggle has a pretty long history going back at least to 450 BC. In Rome at that time there was no publicly accessable writen law. Instead the law was preserved by the an upper class (the Patricians) mostly as an oral tradition. Needless to say this put the lower class (the Plebians) at a considerable disadvantage when they went into court. They had no ready way of knowing what the law actually said.

    In about 450 BC the Plebians won one of the earliest and most significant victories for equality in the western legal tradition. They forced the publication of the laws. The laws were inscribed on twelve tablets and made accessable to all citizens. This established a pinciple which, has survived to this day, that the law ought to be published. (Twelve Tablets) [csun.edu]

    Even so there are several new and non-so-new developments that have really undermined this ancient victory for equality. The law has become so complex that no one really knows what all of it says, and only a privileged class of experts really know what any small part of it says. So we are again in a position where most people have no direct access to the law, and where there is a privileged class that serve as intermediaries between the people and the law. This new development of effectively copyrighting parts of the law, or limiting access to legal databases, is really just a continuation of this trend. It stengthens the hold that the wealthy have over access to the legal system.

  • by covertlaw (599559) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @04:37PM (#5296895)
    Hey, just because it's public info doesn't make it free. The reason why West and Lexis take this public information and bind it is to make money. They spend millions per year keeping two of the largest data warehouses in the world up and running 24/7 and completely up-to-date. They employ thousands of attorneys and librarians to write briefs on EVERY case posted in the system, cross-reference the cases for subject matter and context, and keep the warning symbols up-to-date. I'd really love to see the gummit do that effectively. Besides, the average unlimited user would have no idea what to look for, how to disseminate the information, and what the various warning symbols mean. Now, if you want to see the goods for free, just run down to your local federal despository library or public law library and they'll have every thing you want. As a matter of fact, it's pretty easy for anyone to cross reference cases and law. Here's about $6,000 worth of free advice: To look up a case, go to a legal encyclopedia and look up the subject matter you want. See the citations for cases that discuss it? Now, run over to the reporters, open that big leather and paper device call a BOOK, and flip to the page number. To look up a law, go to the common name table or subject index and look up the statute. Bam! There it is. Try FindLaw.com and thomas.loc.gov. BTW, the flat-rate contracts for firms cost millions of dollars. Seriously, the largest firm here in Omaha paid about 8 million for theirs. That's per year and can go up or down from year to year. If a public library has that much money to throw away, it would be a lot smarter to employ one or two paralegals or legal librarians and purchase a set of reporter, annotated codes, and legal encyclopedias. Shoot, most large law firms will donate old encyclopedias that are easily updateable to libraries. Oh yeah, Nebraska's web site has several areas that are play-to-pay. I think the idea is to charge user fees rather than jack up everyone's taxes. Why should I pay higher taxes for some schlub to slow down the Lexis and West systems on 50,000 document searches for DUI caselaw?
  • by child_of_mercy (168861) <(moc.tcatoir-eht) (ta) (yobnhoj)> on Thursday February 13, 2003 @07:15PM (#5298029) Homepage
    Westlaw and Nexis aren't the problem.

    There's nothing wrong with companies getting this information, organising, indexing, sending to subscribers etc etc, and charging for it.

    what is totally an utterly wrong is when the courts, tribunals and governmetn agencies give exclusive distribution contracts to ANYONE.

    they should be acting like common carriers.

    and they should defeinitely be amintaining their own libraries.

    if the big end of town find it easier to pay someone to aggregate that information thats their perogative.

    so long as everyone else can go to the source if they need it.

    If the source amterial is still publicly available then why should aggregators be forced to give access?
  • by istartedi (132515) on Thursday February 13, 2003 @10:42PM (#5299211) Journal

    Leftists Often See A Crisis... when they should see an opportunity. 1. The case law is in the Public Domain. 2. Lexis/Nexis and Westlaw transform the PD info into a more useful form, but do so on terms that are unacceptable to a particular class of customers.

    Crisis: The customers aren't being served! Bwahahaha!

    Opportunity: Serve them. You can try this on a non-profit basis. For example, I know a guy who used to work for these guys [taxanalysts.org] who specialize in presenting information on the nightmarish complexity that is tax law. IIRC, either or both of the companies mentioned in the article are their competitors, and believe you me they don't enjoy competing with a non-profit. Maybe you can also do this as a for-profit. If there are only two major players, there's a good chance they have gotten fat and lazy, and haven't done everything they can to streamline operations. Put your heads together and figure out a way to beat them, and you might not only serve the libraries, but start stealing their other customers as well.

    Of course, option 2 would actually require work, and you may just end up discovering that the current players are doing all they can do just to provide the service to anybody. You might even go broke. So, if you gotta choose...

    BWAAAHAHA!

    ...is a very appealing option.

  • by dazed-n-confused (140724) on Friday February 14, 2003 @02:08AM (#5300000)
    The ancient Romans knew what they were doing when they made their laws accessible to everyone in a public place. Here's an introductory article [socialstudiesforkids.com], explaining why this was important, and here's the surviving text [yale.edu].

    Of course, maybe in the last two and a half thousand years the patrician aristocracy has once again risen into the ascendent, unfettered by uppity tribunes of the People.

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