Monday, August 20, 2007

A Quest to Get More Court Rulings Online, and Free - New York Times

As a lawyer and obviously former law student, I have more than a passind acquaintence with LexixNexis and WestLaw. I like their products but generally think they are way over priced. Now, it looks like a free competitor is going to challenge the two legal publishing giants: The
domination of two legal research services over the publication of federal and state court decisions is being challenged by an Internet gadfly who has embarked on an ambitious project to make more than 10 million pages of case law available free online.

The project is the latest effort of Carl Malamud, an activist who founded in March, with the broad intent of building “public works” accessible via the network, and with the specific plan to force the federal government to make information more publicly accessible.

Last week, Mr. Malamud began using advanced computer scanning technology to copy decisions, which have been available only in law libraries or via subscription from the Thomson West unit of the Canadian publishing conglomerate Thomson, and LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier, based in London.

The two companies control the bulk of the nearly $5 billion legal publishing market. (A third, but niche, player is the Commerce Clearing House division of Wolters Kluwer).

He has placed the first batch of 1,000 pages of court decisions from the 1880s online at the site. He obtained the documents from a used Thomson microfiche, he said.

Mr. Malamud, who is a self-styled Robin Hood of the information age, has confounded executives and administrators at organizations as diverse as the Smithsonian Institution, the House of Representatives and the Commerce Department by asserting the public’s right to government information and then proceeding to digitize it and place it in the public domain.
Of course, the benefit of LexisNexis and WestLaw is the extensive cross-referencing they do and will no doubt continue to do. Malamud's database may be helpful in that it can be easy and free to access, but probably won't contain that value-added feature.

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