Downloading Important Cases on PACER Costs More than a Brand New Car

Michael Lissner

By now most readers of this blog know that PACER brings in a lot of money by selling public domain documents at a dime per page. What people might not realize is how these costs can add up for individual researchers or journalists. Looking through our database, we realized that we have quite a few really big cases.

All of the cases below have more than ten thousand entries that we know about.1 There are some names you might recognize:

At the top of the above list is the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy case from the 2008 financial crisis. It has 30,146 documents in RECAP and likely more in PACER itself. To put this in context, the average cost of downloading a document from PACER is 69 cents.2 So if you are a journalist or researcher that is closely following the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy case, downloading it would cost you at least $20,800.

For that much money, you can buy a lot of other things. Like a new 2016 Honda Civic:

2016 Honda Civic

The 2016 Honda Civic—MSRP of $18,740

At this point, we have said it many times in many ways, but it bears repeating again: This is not what a public access system looks like. PACER was intended by Congress to be a public access system and its very name is an acronym for Public Access to Court Electronic Records. And yet somehow, here we are. Somehow, downloading just one of the most important cases in America, like Lehman Brothers or Deepwater Horizon, costs tens of thousands of dollars.

This is not what a public access system looks like. Again we ask that public citizens, Congress, journalists, and the courts work to develop a solution so that the PACER problem can finally be addressed.

  1. They may have more, but because of the way that RECAP works, we only get content when one of our users downloads it. As a result, it is quite likely that there are even more documents in these cases that we do not yet have.
  2. This number is based on the length of documents that we have in RECAP and takes the $3/document cap into account.

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