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Update: Crashing the Wexis Gate

In a post here in August, Crashing the Wexis Gate, I wrote about plans by Carl Malamud and his nonprofit organization Public.Resource.Org  to create a public-domain database of all federal case law and eventually all state case law too. That plan took a major step forward yesterday with the announcement of an agreement between Public.Resource.Org  and the legal research company Fastcase that will allow Malamud's organization to publish 1.8 million pages of federal case law in the public domain. The archive will become available on the Web sometime in 2008 and will include all U.S. courts of appeals decisions since 1950 and all Supreme Court decisions since 1754. In announcing the agreement, Malamud said:

The U.S. judiciary has allowed their entire work product to be locked up behind a cash register. Law is the operating system of our society and today's agreement means anybody can read the source for a substantial amount of case law that was previously unavailable.

As I wrote yesterday at my LawSites blog, it is notable that this public-domain database will come about with the cooperation of a for-profit legal research company. Fastcase has agreed to sell this case law in a one-time transaction that will allow Public.Resource.Org to use it without restriction. The cases will be marked with a new Creative Commons mark -- CC-Ø -- that signals that there are no copyrights or other related rights attached to the content. The announcement included the teaser that news of further additions to the database, including older appellate cases and trial court decisions, "will be forthcoming."

Predictably, the news raises the question of how public access to case law will affect Westlaw and LexisNexis. Kevin O'Keefe, for one, at his blog, Real Lawyers Have Blogs, asks whether the companies can maintain the status quo and survive. To my mind, it is way too early to write their obituaries. Years ago, both of these companies saw the approach of broad public access to court opinions. In case you haven't noticed, both have been bulking up their content in other areas. Will all information someday be free? Perhaps, but for now Wexis has plenty to sell.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 15, 2007 at 12:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)


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