RECAP Extension — Frequently Asked Questions


What is PACER?

PACER is the public access system for records in federal courts. You can use PACER to access over a billion legal documents from about 60 million federal court cases. You can learn more about PACER in our PACER FAQ.

Will RECAP interfere with my use of PACER?

RECAP is designed to improve your PACER experience without getting in your way. To use RECAP, install it, and use PACER as you normally would.

As you use PACER, you'll see small RECAP icons and other notifications about free versions of PACER content. Click these icons and links to get PACER content for free.

View Screenshots of RECAP

How does RECAP handle sealed or restricted content?

We have been running RECAP for over a decade, and hear this question a lot. Lawyers with ECF access need to be certain the RECAP extension will not to upload sealed or restricted content.

We address this issue with a series of safeguards:

  1. We encourage RECAP users to log in with PACER accounts, not ECF accounts, but we support both.

    If you log in with a PACER account, you will not have any special access in the system. You will not be able to share or even access restricted records.

  2. If you log in with an ECF account, the extension will detect that. If so, it will provide you with two buttons on every purchase screen, one for buying the document as usual and another to "RECAP" it (i.e. share it with the public):

    A PACER receipt screen showing two buttons.
    A PACER receipt screen showing the regular download button plus another to "RECAP" the document.

    This way, when you are on a PACER receipt page, you can decide to buy the document with the regular button, or you can decide to RECAP it.

  3. Some documents display a warning saying that they are restricted. RECAP automatically detects this and does not upload such documents (even if they're no longer restricted, which happens sometimes):

    A PACER receipt page showing a restriction warning.
    A PACER receipt page showing a restriction warning.
  4. On occasion, documents are not sealed in PACER even though they should be. Sometimes these documents are inadvertently uploaded to the RECAP Archive. When this happens, we rapidly work with courts, parties, and users to clean things up.

In practice, the above safeguards have been effective for thousands of users across many years.

Can the judiciary tell I'm using RECAP?

We don't think so, no, and we have no reason to believe they have ever tried. From the judiciary's perspective, a user with RECAP installed behaves exactly like any other user. The only difference is that the RECAP extension uploads purchased content to our website and checks whether we have content before you spend your money on it.

These activities happen on your computer, so it would be difficult for the judiciary to detect.

Will RECAP monitor or share my traffic?

You're right to be thinking about this. Some extensions make money by selling your web usage. When you install RECAP, you will grant the extension access to the PACER websites, but no others. This means we have no idea what you're doing when you're not on a PACER website. That's a technical protection for you that is enforced by your browser.

Philosophically, we value your privacy and anonymity, and the RECAP Privacy Policy forbids us from sharing such information.

Will installing RECAP affect my use of other websites?

No. RECAP only works on PACER-related sites. It cannot see your browsing or affect any other websites.

Can I browse or search the archive directly?

Yes! You can search and browse the entire RECAP Archive on our website,, where you'll find the largest open repository of PACER cases and documents in the country.

Visit the RECAP Archive

The PACER "policies and procedures" prohibit "any attempt to collect data from PACER in a manner which avoids billing." Is this what RECAP is designed to do?

Absolutely not. PACER charges users for the documents they download from PACER. RECAP users pay for every document they download from PACER, just like any other user.

RECAP simply gives users a second option: to easily share documents directly with one another, as they're permitted to do under copyright law. When a user downloads a RECAP document, the document comes directly from our server; the process imposes no additional load on PACER's web servers.

Technical Questions

Can I disable RECAP?

Yes, in the RECAP preferences, there is an option to disable uploads. Clicking that box will ensure that you avoid uploading something to the RECAP Archive while allowing you to continue to download items. We do hope you'll contribute though.

I uploaded a document, but it didn't seem to work — there's no "R" icon. Why?

There are a handful of reasons why we can't always work with a PDF that somebody has uploaded.

The main reason that we might not show an "R" icon after receiving a document happens when we receive the document before we receive the docket. This is a bit of a dead end for us because we can't add a PDF to a docket we don't have. Later, when we get the docket, we will add the document to it.

The second reason this can happen is because of a longstanding bug in criminal cases. In PACER, criminal cases can have multiple docket numbers, and this can cause problems for RECAP. If this happens, until we fix this issue, the best thing to do is find the case in the RECAP Archive, where there are sometimes multiple copies of such cases.

How do I report a bug or make a feature suggestion?

You can report bugs on our bug tracker or by sending us an email — whatever is comfortable for you.

Public Records

Is sharing court documents a violation of copyright law?

The court-created documents provided by PACER are works of the federal government, and under copyright law, are automatically placed in the public domain and may be shared without legal restriction.

The question is a little bit more complicated for documents filed by third parties, so we asked a prominent legal scholar about it. He told us that such documents may be under copyright, but he thought redistributing copyrighted court documents was legal under copyright's fair use doctrine. However, there is very little case law in this area (though some examples are here, here, and here). It's impossible to be sure.

We believe citizens ought to have the freedom to share public court documents, and we fight for that right. We hope RECAP users will help to establish that precedent.

If filings can be copyrighted and cannot be shared under fair use, it will cause a massive upheaval in the legal ecosystem.

Something else?

We're always happy to hear from our fans and critics. We look forward to hearing from you with any questions that remain.

Get in Touch

© 2024 Free Law Project. Content licensed under a Creative Commons BY-ND international 4.0, license, except where indicated. Site powered by Netlify.