The Report of Current Opinions

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.

Law.Gov Logo
The RECOP feed will be treated as an open source project with revision control, multiple commiters,
open discussion lists, and perhaps even multiple branches. Law.Gov participants include
both for-profit organizations such as Justia and Fastcase and academic institutions such
as Princeton, Cornell, and
Stanford. We welcome additional participants from
both communities. More details will be made available in mid-January on the Law.Gov mailing list.

In addition to weekly release of all current opinions, this feed will include periodic
releases of important segments of the back file, including:

  • A release of 3 million pages of 9th Circuit briefs from 1892 to 1968 which was produced
    in cooperation with
    UC Hastings College of the Law
    and the Internet Archive and is scheduled
    for release in Q1 2011.
  • Double-keyed HTML for at least the first 10 volumes of the Federal Reporter, First Series
    and all 30 volumes of the Federal Cases will be completed by the end of Q2 2011.
    This data is being furnished as part of the YesWeScan Project.
    Now, you too can give the gift that you can cite forever.
  • William S. Hein & Co., which provided high-resolution
    scans of the Federal Cases, is providing a high-resolution scan of the Federal Reporter, First Series
    which will be released in Q1 2011.
  • We are actively pursuing several other important archives that are missing such as Supreme
    Court Briefs, multiple versions of the annotated statutes of the 50 states, and other key collections.
    We would welcome the contribution of any legal publishers wishing to furnish such data.

Providing the back file and ongoing release of primary legal materials is really the job of
those institutions of government that make the law. That is the idea behind Law.Gov, an idea that
the government must do a much better job of promulgating the raw materials of our democracy.
Because we feel strongly that government must strive much harder to be that shining city upon
the hill that Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy both aspired to, we have set two timeouts on this
new service:

  • First, we have built a sunset clause into RECOP. The Report of Current Opinions will be provided in 2011
    and 2012 and
    will then terminate as a
    private sector activity. The government should be able to provide the basic primary legal materials in a
    way that meets the strong consensus arrived at in the Law.Gov Principles.
    The Report of Current Opinions is a transition step towards government meeting those principles,
    not a substitute for governmental action.
  • Second, the participants in Law.Gov all feel strongly that work on the Report of Current Opinions
    over the next two years requires the active participation of government partners, joining industry and the nonprofit sectors.
    We have placed active offers to work with institutions in all three branches of our federal
    government to help us make the feed better and to provide access to the public. We have established
    a milestone of July 1, 2011 by which government needs to step up to the plate and join us in helping make
    this service real. This service is expensive—$35,000/month for just the basic feed, not counting
    post-processing and hosting—and we can’t justify doing this if government is not taking the effort
    seriously.

The creation of a new system for reporting the law is of course real
news and no doubt the announcement could have been handed to mainstream media outlets
such as the New York Times, the ABA Journal, or Boing Boing. However, because Tim O’Reilly’s
Gov 2.0 Summits provided the platform for talking about Law.Gov and the catalyst for many
of the players to come together, this blog seemed like the right forum for this announcement.

Public.Resource.Org
has been very fortunate in receiving support from outside the legal community, from people
like Tim and his staff at O’Reilly Media, from the unexpected and fortuitous award from
Google’s 10^100 Project, and from
the very kind and generous support of our many individual donors.

But now, it is time for the legal profession to step up to the bar and help make the dissemination
of our primary legal materials an important issue. The ABA, AALS, AALL and other legal associations
need to start wrestling at their weight, insisting that legal materials be made available to all.
Our government institutions need to join with them and begin to take far more seriously their obligations to make access to
justice and the rule of law a reality. There can be no due process under the law when access to the law itself
is preconditioned upon access to money.

Our current system hurts innovation as much as it hurts democracy, and we are
ever hopeful that our friends in industry—at companies like West, Lexis, and LoisLaw—will shoulder
their responsibilities not only to their shareholders but to the public we all serve by helping make
our legal system function better and more transparently. It would not only be good for their business,
it would be the right thing to do.

In 2010, we began the Law.Gov process with a series of workshops and a broad-based consensus on the
issues. Here’s hoping
2011 will make Law.Gov a reality with a
distributed reporting system, governmental standards and governmental action, and the active participation
of the legal community.

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  • http://public.resource.org Carl Malamud

    Hi Bob -

    Thanks for the nice piece. Let me explain the timing issues a bit more.

    We set two timeouts, one hard and one soft. The hard one is that this is a 2-year deal. Somebody else may step up and do this in year 3, but I won’t be one of those people. We want this over the wall and a function of government by then.

    The soft timeout is the 6-month clock we’ve set for government participation. I’m letting all our developers who will be using the data know the level of our commitment. We’re definitely doing this for at least 6 months. We set aside the $210,000 to make that happen.

    If .gov becomes a no-show, we reserve the right to come up with a plan B. But, if they step up to the plate (which I believe is going to happen … people are really enthusiastic), we’re here for the two full years.

    An important part of any open source effort is the roadmap, a consensus on where the project is going. We wanted to send out that initial signal on timing so people have an idea of what to expect.

    Best,

    Carl