Public.Resource.Org will begin providing in 2011 a weekly release of the Report of Current Opinions (RECOP). The Report will initially consist of HTML of all slip and final opinions of the appellate and supreme courts of the 50 states and the federal government. The feed will be available for reuse without restriction under the Creative Commons CC-Zero License and will include full star pagination.This data is being obtained through an agreement with Fastcase, one of the leading legal information publishers. Fastcase will be providing us all opinions in a given week by the end of the following week. We will work with our partners in Law.Gov to perform initial post-processing of the raw HTML data, including such tasks as privacy audits, conversion to XHTML, and tagging for style, content, and metadata.
On Sunday Dec. 19 Carl Malamud made the startling announcement quoted above. And you did read it correctly: “The Report will initially consist of HTML of all slip and final opinions of the appellate and supreme courts of the 50 states and the federal government. ” To say that this is huge would be the understatement of the year.
From personal experience I can tell you that the “slip and final opinions of the appellate and supreme courts of the 50 states and the federal government” have never all been freely available in HTML before. Not even close. At best you could probably wrangle 75% of these opinions in PDF using a mountain of code to scrape sites and parse feeds. To have all this available as a single feed is a game changer.
As a researcher and builder of tools for legal research and education, having access to a single feed that contains all of this data is just the thing I’ve been looking for (and occasionally trying to build) for the past 15 or so years. I have no doubt that the availability of this feed will spark a flurry of development to use the data in new and interesting ways. I will certainly be incorporating it in the CALI tools I’m currently working on.
Of course there are a couple of caveats here. First, we haven’t seen the feed yet. It won’t be available for a few weeks, so right now I’m still just waiting to see what it will look like. Second, there are 2 “timeouts” built into this service, direct government involvement by July 1, 2011 and a general sunset of private sector activity in creating the feed at the end of 2012. The timeouts underscore the belief that providing free and open access to primary legal materials is a duty of the government, plain and simple. As citizens we are bound to follow the law and our government should be obligated to provide us with free and open access to that law.
I know I’m certainly looking forward to a new year that brings greater free and open access to the law. Thanks, Carl.