By Nerino Petro at 14 August, 2009, 11:32 am
Slashdot posted Firefox Plugin Liberates Paywalled Court Records today which is a link to Timothy B. Lee’s Bottom-up blog. It seems that Mr. Lee and fellow grad students have a created RECAP, a Firefox plugin that allows you to take Pacer court records that you’ve purchased and upload them to a public internet archive. While the Federal Courts make records available, they do so through the PACER online system which requires an account as well as charging a per document fee.
According to Mr. Lee:
Transparency is a fundamental principle of our judicial system because it allows us to fully understand the laws that bind us. Yet when it comes to accessing judicial records online, the judiciary falls well short of this ideal. PACER locks documents behind a paywall—charging 8 cents per “page”—and forces users to use a cumbersome search interface that’s inscrutible to non-lawyers.
If you’ve ever used PACER, you know how frustrating using PACER can be; however, any generally available archive will need to be simple to use both from an uploading and accessing standpoint which point Lee’s post makes:
What RECAP does is very simple: whenever a user downloads (and pays for) a document from PACER, RECAP helps the user automatically send a copy of that document to a public archive hosted by the Internet Archive. In addition (and here’s the real selling point for users), if a user searches for a document that’s already in the public archive, RECAP will notify the user of this fact and give him the option of downloading the free version, saving the user money on PACER fees. Users can (to paraphrase Carl Malamud) save money as they save public access to the law.
While there are other projects that are working to make access to caselaw free such as PreCYdent, this is the first project that I’m aware of working to make not only the caselaw but also the case documents and pleadings freely and easily accessible.