Court Decisions Online

I came back from a ten day trip to see the smiling face of my old pal (and tenant at O’Reilly Media’s offices in Sebastopol), Carl Malamud of, on the front page of the business section of our local paper, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. The headline says it all: 1.8 million rulings online — and free:

A scrappy Sebastopol Internet pioneer who pushed the federal government to put corporate filings and patent documents online for anyone to see has made his first big move to force the U.S. court system to do the same.

This week, Carl Malamud posted free electronic copies of every U.S. Supreme Court decision and Court of Appeals ruling since 1950.

Malamud hopes the database of 1.8 million rulings — equivalent to a row of law books longer than a football field — will inspire Internet users to demand that all court rulings be made available online for free.

I should note that Carl’s previous work, which led to the availability of SEC data online, did not destroy the financial publishing industry. Instead, it grew the size and importance of the total pie by making that information more accessible. Allowing Google and Yahoo! to index court cases will make our legal system more open, and making its data accessible will encourage more innovation in legal publishing.