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The Courts

Harvard Project Aims To Put Every Court Decision Online, For Free (google.com) 66

Techdirt comments approvingly on a new project from Harvard Law School, called Free the Law, which is a joint effort with a company called Ravel to scan and post in nicely searchable format all federal and state court decisions, and put them all online, for free. As Techdirt puts it, This is pretty huge. While some courts now release most decisions as freely available PDFs, many federal courts still have them hidden behind the ridiculous PACER system, and state court decisions are totally hit or miss. And, of course, tons of historical cases are completely buried. While there are some giant companies like Westlaw and LexisNexis that provide lawyers access to decisions, those cost a ton -- and the public is left out. This new project is designed to give much more widespread access to the public. And it sounds like they're really going above and beyond to make it truly accessible, rather than just dumping PDFs online. ... Harvard "owns" the resulting data (assuming what's ownable), and while there are some initial restrictions that Ravel can put on the corpus of data, that goes away entirely after eight years, and can end earlier if Ravel "does not meet its obligations." Anything that helps disrupt the stranglehold of the major legal publishers seems like a good thing.
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Harvard Project Aims To Put Every Court Decision Online, For Free

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    I must not understand. Why wouldn't all decisions be free already? If we paid for them with tax dollars, wouldn't the decisions belong to the public?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You typically have to pay to get the information. You're paying administrative / clerical fees for the information to be released to you.

    • they are free if you go to every court and look them up which will take up the rest of your life. the value of lexisnexis is that you can search them fast because 2/3 of winning a lawsuit is researching prior cases on the subject. US legal system is based on earlier cases being used for later lawsuits. forgot the term for it
    • Duopoly (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I must not understand. Why wouldn't all decisions be free already? If we paid for them with tax dollars, wouldn't the decisions belong to the public?

      The decisions themselves are public, but finding them online is not.

      The major legal publishers--Westlaw and Lexis--charge ridiculous costs to access them, and accessing them through the publishers is the only practical way to do a lot of legal research because of their systems for tracing ideas and the fact that they have collected all of the local court cases that historically were never indexed unless a snippet happened to be printed in a legal periodical, for example. They add billions of dollars of val

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I haven't used Lexis-Nexis or Westlaw in years, but I remember that one of the pricing models was that you paid *by the number of results returned by your query* which was absolutely insane (and thus also made people start with an extremely too narrow, complex initial query.)

    • And trial transcripts belong to the court reporters, who have to be paid if you want a transcript. That seems even wronger.

    • by DedTV ( 1652495 )
      The decisions do belong to the public. But the printed and electronic collections of case law that exist are sometimes copyrightable because they contain proprietary annotations, case histories and pagination or weren't paid for by the public but licensed out to a private publisher.

      Anyone can go out and get the decisions from public records and state law libraries, but with millions of pages of case law just among the major Federal and State courts; obtaining, formatting, and publishing all that data fro
  • Will they censor names from the cases? If not depending on the case, some of the involved might object...
    • Re:Privacy (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31, 2015 @02:14PM (#50838445)

      Court decisions are a matter of public record (if not explicitly sealed), doesn't matter if the involved object.

      • Particularly sensitive matters are redacted or are put under seal. For example, if you file your tax returns, you blackout the social security number on every page.

    • On what basis? Court decisions are part of the public record; none of the participants have any right or expectation of privacy. Any information with a legal reason not to be made public will be redacted before the decision is publicized and it would be the redacted version that the Harvard Project would put online.

    • Will they censor names from the cases? If not depending on the case, some of the involved might object...

      No, they're public records. Unless a judge had ordered that someone's name wasn't revealed (e.g. if a witness was a special forces soldier or spy or something) the names are available for anyone to see already.

  • While it is nice to have all these legal decisions on line, it's really not that useful unless you have a system of linking those decisions and appeals and all the final outcomes of those processes in the form of CITATIONS. That's what people pay the big bucks for to Westlaw, Lexus/Nexus and of course that monstrocity coming from Washington Street in Manhattan, Bloomberg Law.
    • Which is why Aaron Swartz, who was arrested for abusing PACER and trying to republish it entirely, followed up with attempting to download all of JSTOR. Replicating the indexed content could work well, in the short term, but, would eliminate the fees that make organizing and publishing the indexed information possible. He was eventually arrested for that, as well, partly because he kept breaking JSTOR and breaking MIT's access to JSTOR with his abuse.

  • Undiclosed name settled with undisclosed corporation for an undisclosed amount in a matter relating to an undisclosed situation.
  • Despite what other comments say, no one is paying for Westlaw or LexisNexis per hour, and attorneys aren't forced to search as quick as possible. Most firms will have things like all the cases and statutes in their jurisdictions in their subscription, which allows them to search/view them as much as they want, with no additional cost. Occasionally you'll want to view something that isn't part of your subscription, in which case you go "out of plan" and pay to access that content. From there you can eithe

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