RECAP Featured in XRDS Magazine

XRDS Magazine recently ran an article by Steve Schultze and Harlan Yu entitled Using Software to Liberate U.S. Case Law. The article describes the motivation behind RECAP, and outlines the state of public access to electronic court records.

Using PACER is the only way for citizens to obtain electronic records from the Courts. Ideally, the Courts would publish all of their records online, in bulk, in order to allow any private party to index and re-host all of the documents, or to build new innovative services on top of the data. But while this would be relatively cheap for the Courts to do, they haven’t done so, instead choosing to limit “open” access.

[…]

Since the first release, RECAP has gained thousands of users, and the central repository contains more than 2.3 million documents across 400,000 federal cases. If you were to purchase these documents from scratch from PACER, it would cost you nearly $1.5 million. And while our collection still pales in comparison to the 500 million documents purportedly in the PACER system, it contains many of the most-frequently accessed documents the public is searching for.

[…]

As with many issues, it all comes down to …

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RECAP, The Press, and Judicial Transparency

USA Today just posted an article covering the debate over Arizona’s new immigration law. The article is essentially a roundup of relevant coverage, comments, and the wave of pending lawsuits. It is an example of the core activities of journalism in action — namely information gathering, synthesis, and dissemination on issues relevant to the public. The article is also notable because it embeds the actual text of a complaint from one of the lawsuits filed yesterday. This document came from PACER.

Some time yesterday, a RECAP user also downloaded that document, thus contributing it to the public archive. You can see the docket and document here. As a result, anyone can freely search for, download, or re-post the document. People can also follow the progress of the case (assuming RECAP users continue to download new documents as they are posted). The fact that this is all happening automatically is an exciting success for RECAP.

However, that success is inherently limited. Although the system worked in this particular case, there are literally millions of other cases that have not been similarly liberated from the PACER paywall. Many of these are highly relevant to American citizens, but they are not of broad …

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RECAP in the Columbia Science and Technology Law Review

’s place at the heart or the periphery of the movement remains to be seen. Like any crowdsourcing application, RECAP’s usefulness increases as more people use it. Yet PACER’s prime users are large, bill-paying law firms, which tend to be wary about adopting new technology and have little incentive to contribute documents they paid for to a free database.

“Success” for RECAP may not be mainstream adoption, however. Merely by creating the working plugin and calling attention to the problem of restricted access to court documents, CITP has advanced the cause of reforming and opening up access to PACER. That alone is “Turning PACER around.”

One point this misses is that using RECAP can directly reduce firms’ PACER fees. It’s true, of course, that most firms pass these costs along to their clients. However, in today’s economic climate, clients are increasingly pressing their law firms for cost savings. Adopting RECAP is a painless way for firms to demonstrate cost-consciousness. And the cost savings from RECAP adoption will only get bigger as RECAP’s user base continues to grow. So while we think judicial transparency is reason enough to use RECAP, installing RECAP is good for every …

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RECAP Media Recap

Last week, we got our first major media coverage from across the pond, as the Guardian gave us a generous write-up. They call RECAP “an ingenious twist on peer to peer networking” and write that “since the system launched in August, legal circles have been buzzing with support for the idea.”

Meanwhile, RECAP continues to generate interest from the legal profession. Earlier this month, RECAP’s own Tim Lee spoke to a group of New Jersey lawyers about how the software can save their clients money while expanding access to the public domain. And Arizona Attorney magazine has an in-depth article about RECAP and the debate over public access. They write that “there appears to be nothing illegal about the use of RECAP by those who are paying PACER users” (we agree). And they conclude that we’ve “carefully thought through the ethical implications and goals of the program.” We like to think so. The December issue of Virginia Lawyer magazine profiles RECAP, describing in detail the efforts so far to liberate PACER documents.

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RECAP in Minnesota Lawyer

Word about RECAP continues to spread through the legal profession. The latest issue of Minnesota Lawyer covers the case of a Minneapolis lawyer who was sanctioned for inadvertently including the Social Security numbers and dates of birth of dozens of individuals in court documents, when the rules of civil procedure mandate that only the last four digits of a Social Security number and the year of birth be disclosed in documents filed with the court.

The article then mentions RECAP as one reason for attorneys to be careful about redaction when they’re filing court documents:

Friedemann said that concern over the publication of sensitive information has been elevated by recent Web programs like RECAP, which has made it easier to access public court filings.

RECAP automatically uploads all PACER documents a user is viewing onto an archive maintained by the non-profit group Internet Archive. When the next RECAP user attempts to view a PACER document that has already been archived, RECAP automatically uploads the copy to prevent that user from paying for those materials. The system allows users of PACER to slowly create a secondary archive of these public documents that can be accessed for free.

Friedemann explained that …

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RECAP in the Los Angeles Times and Elsewhere

Monday’s Los Angeles Times has a great article talking about the growing movement for government transparency. It focuses on three of our favorite transparency advocates: Ellen Miller, co-founder of the Sunlight Foundation; Josh Tauberer, a regular at CITP conferences, and Carl Malamud, whose non-profit, public.resource.org, is a key RECAP partner.

The article discusses RECAP in some detail, describing it as “a sort of digital Kumbaya.” We’re always happy to have news outlets help spread the word about RECAP, and we’re also glad that the article makes clear that RECAP is part of a broader movement for web-enabled government transparency. Folks like Carl, Josh, and Ellen have been pushing the envelope on these issues longer than we have.

One minor correction that’s worth noting: the article refers to “the courts’ PACER revenue of $10 million a year.” In reality, the expected revenue for 2009 is $87 million. This and many other details about PACER’s budget can be found in RECAP co-author Steve Schultze’s recently-released paper on the subject.

RECAP has been a subject of discussion in other venues as well. Ars Technica discussed the courts’ reaction to RECAP in its story about the …

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RECAP in the Wall Street Journal

Last week we did a round-up of leading technology-focused sites that have covered RECAP. Now, it seems that news of RECAP is spreading beyond the “tech blogosphere,” as more mainstream publications have begun writing about our software. Foreign Policy‘s Evgeny Morozov covered RECAP, calling it “smart and subversive.” On Wednesday NextGov, a National Journal publication widely read within the government IT community, ran a thorough write-up of RECAP by Aliya Sternstein. It included some good background on how RECAP fits into the larger debate about judicial transparency.

Finally, Katherine Mangu-Ward has penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal about RECAP. Katherine calls RECAP “a sleek little add-on” with “a stylish and subversive touch.” She writes:

With the possible exception of the ever-leaky CIA, no aspect of government remains more locked down than the secretive, hierarchical judicial branch. Digital records of court filings, briefs and transcripts sit behind paywalls like Lexis and Westlaw. Legal codes and judicial documents aren’t copyrighted, but governments often cut exclusive distribution deals, rendering other access methods a bit legally questionable. Supreme Court decisions are easy to get, but the briefs and decisions of lower courts can be hard to come by.

Last week …

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Law Professors, Librarians, and Think Tankers Praise RECAP

We’ve been getting a ton of helpful feedback from users over the weekend. We’re grateful for all the supportive emails, comments, and tweets we’ve received. We’re also grateful for the bug reports and feature requests we’ve gotten. We need this kind of feedback to make RECAP better.

Most of the questions we’ve received are are now answered by our Frequently Asked Questions. Stay tuned for some upcoming blog posts where we’ll address some of these questions in more detail. But first, we wanted to highlight some more of the commentary that RECAP’s release has generated.

James Grimmelmann, a law professor at New York Law School who has done some great writing on public access to the law, gives RECAP this generous endorsement:

The great part about this is that because the Archive is providing the server space for free, every RECAP user is saving the court system work. Each time you download through RECAP, you avoid having to go through PACER’s servers at all. So yes, RECAP will mean a decrease in PACER’s revenues, but it also means a decrease in the things those revenues need to pay for. It …

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The Blogosphere Weighs in on RECAP

We’re thrilled at the reception RECAP has gotten in its first few hours. Among the notable reactions, Techcrunch discusses the legal issues and concludes that using RECAP doesn’t violate copyright law. RECAP is a hot topic of conversation at Slashdot. CNet also weighed in, highlighting one of the challenges RECAP may face in the coming months:

There are some potential problems. One is that because the RECAP developers plan to make the source code available, it wouldn’t be hard for someone to seed the Internet Archive with “official court documents” that had been modified in some way. (The answer is for users to pay to download important files from PACER, or for the courts to employ digital signatures.)

Techdirt calls RECAP “ingenious”, and concludes that “this is a fantastic idea that hopefully will help to open up public domain court information that has been locked behind PACER’s paywalls for too long.”

Finally, Ars Technica does its usual thorough job of covering RECAP, writing:

The RECAP project could also illuminate potential solutions to the problems that are blocking a more complete PACER overhaul. Despite growing pressure from Congress to reform the PACER system and make data available …

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