The Next Version of RECAP is Now Live

The original RECAP extension for Firefox was launched eight years ago. Today we launch an all new version. Since the original launch in 2009, we’ve kept the system running smoothly, added a Chrome extension, and — with your help — collected and shared information about tens of millions of PACER documents.

Today we’re announcing the future of RECAP. If you’re an existing Firefox or Chrome user, you should automatically get this update over the next 24 hours. If you’re a new user, just learning about RECAP, you can find links for Firefox or Chrome on the right, and you can learn more on the RECAP homepage.

As this new system rolls out, these are the big changes:

  1. As you’re using PACER, the extensions will stop providing links to the Internet Archive, and will instead provide links to CourtListener and the RECAP Archive, where dockets and documents are fully text searchable.

  2. Links to CourtListener will be available very soon after an upload from PACER is complete — possibly within seconds or minutes. This has been the most-requested enhancement we’ve heard over the years, and we’re really happy to be bringing this …

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We Have Every Free PACER Opinion on

Free Opinion Report Dropdown

At Free Law Project, we have gathered millions of court documents over the years, but it’s with distinct pride that we announce that we have now completed our biggest crawl ever. After nearly a year of work, and with support from the U.S. Department of Labor and Georgia State University, we have collected every free written order and opinion that is available in PACER. To accomplish this we used PACER’s “Written Opinion Report,” which provides many opinions for free.

This collection contains approximately 3.4 million orders and opinions from approximately 1.5 million federal district and bankruptcy court cases dating back to 1960. More than four hundred thousand of these documents were scanned and required OCR, amounting to nearly two million pages of text extraction that we completed for this project.

All of the documents amassed are available for search in the RECAP Archive of PACER documents and via our APIs. New opinions will be downloaded every night to keep the collection up to date.

The RECAP Archive now has more than twenty million documents.

With this additional collection, the RECAP Archive now has information about more than twenty million PACER documents.

As a backup and permanent repository, we are continuing our partnership with the Internet …

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Why We Are Downloading all Free Opinions and Orders from PACER


Today we are launching a new project to download all of the free opinions and orders that are available on PACER. Since we do not want to unduly impact PACER, we are doing this process slowly, giving it several weeks or months to complete, and slowing down if any PACER administrators get in touch with issues.

In this project, we expect to download millions of PDFs, all of which we will add to both the RECAP Archive that we host, and to the Internet Archive, which will serve as a publicly available backup.1 In the RECAP Archive, we will be immediately parsing the contents of all the PDFs as we download them. Once that is complete we will extract the content of scanned documents, as we have done for the rest of the collection.

This project will create an ongoing expense for Free Law Project—hosting this many files costs real money—and so we want to explain two major reasons why we believe this is an important project. The first reason is because there is a monumental value to these documents, and until now they have not been easily available to the public. These documents are a critical …

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Free Law Project to Serve as PACER Data Provider to Department of Labor Grantees at Georgia State University

EMERYVILLE, CA — Free Law Project is proud to announce that it has been selected by researchers at Georgia State University to provide PACER data for their research on employment misclassification lawsuits. The purpose of their research is to gain an understanding of how courts distinguish between employees and independent contractors, and the factors influencing those decisions across federal jurisdictions. This research will be funded by a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, and will be conducted by primary researchers Charlotte S. Alexander and Mohammad Javad Feizollahi of Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business.

Free Law Project’s role in this grant will be to acquire court opinions and orders from PACER, and to provide them to Alexander and Feizollahi for their research. Because PACER is not optimized for automated access, a key outcome of the grant will be to develop tools and infrastructure to enable other researchers to utilize PACER data through future grants.

PACER data is too difficult for researchers to access, and it’s high time that a centralized service be created by a non-profit to gather this kind of data for researchers,” says Michael Lissner, Founder and Executive Director of …

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Roundup of House Judiciary Committee’s PACER Review

HJC Seal

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing today on the topic of the “the effectiveness of the PACER service and use of audio and video recordings of courtroom procedures.” Three witnesses were invited by the committee to speak at the hearing, including our board member, Thomas Bruce, who spoke at length on the topic of reforming the PACER system. His written testimony can be found here.

Bruce framed his testimony by providing an overview of the things that PACER is and is not. In his words, these are the characteristics that define PACER:

  1. First, PACER charges fees for access to public records.
  2. Second, PACER became outmoded two years after it was built, and in some ways has never caught up.
  3. Third, PACER suffers from a split personality. On one hand, it is an electronic filing and case management system that supports the Federal courts […]On the other […] it is a data publishing system that offers the work of the Federal courts, both documents and metadata, to a very wide range of people[…]

And these are the things, in his words, that it is not:

  1. It is not transparent in its business model or operations.
  2. PACER is not an adequate facility …
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Downloading Important Cases on PACER Costs More than a Brand New Car

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 …

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Retiring and Consolidating RECAP Websites

We’re talking a lot about RECAP lately and we’ve realized that it’s a good time to retire the website. Free Law Project took over RECAP back in May of 2014 and since then there have been two places where we wrote blog posts, two places where you could get information about PACER and RECAP, and two places we had to maintain on a day to day basis. By winding down this site, we’ll be able to focus more clearly on the task at hand — liberating documents from PACER.

As of now, all the old content has been moved to this site, and the new home for RECAP is You can go check it out —- we spent some time on it, and it should be a great homepage for the project.

If you have any thoughts or notice anything broken please let us know. We’ll have more announcements about RECAP soon.

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Brian and Mike’s Presentations from Columbia’s Web Archiving Conference

Co-Founder Brian Carver and I presented at Columbia’s Web Archiving Conference last month and the videos have now been posted on YouTube. Brian gave a substantial talk about Juriscraper and how we used a grant from Columbia to expand it to cover all fifty states:

And I did a lightning talk about RECAP:

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New Versions of RECAP Extensions Out Now!


We’ve released new versions of the RECAP extensions for Chrome and Firefox and they will be auto-updating in your browsers soon.

These are the first new versions in more than two years, and while they are relatively small releases, we’re very excited to be rolling them out.

The headline feature for these extensions is a new Team Name field that you can configure in your settings. We are planning some competitions to see who can upload the most documents to RECAP and to participate, you’ll have to join a team and fill in this field with the team’s name. For now, this is a beta feature, so take a look and let us know if you have ideas for improving or using it.

There are a handful of other fixes that have also landed in these releases. In both Chrome and Firefox, the icons have been improved to support high resolution screens, and the extensions have been changed to support HTTPS uploads, making them more private and secure. In Chrome, we have a new testing framework, thanks to a volunteer developer, and we have fixed notifications to work more reliably.

A lot of this is minor …

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What Should be Done About the PACER Problem?

This is the third in a series of posts about PACER:

  1. What is the “PACER Problem”
  2. Why Should Congress Care About PACER?
  3. What Should be Done About the PACER Problem?

Let’s outline what you should do, what Congress should do, and what the courts should do:

Uncle Sam (pointing finger)

By James Montgomery Flagg - Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

What you should do about the PACER Problem

As we mentioned in our first post, Carl Malamud of Public.Resource.Org has written a memorandum detailing a three-pronged approach that average individuals can take to address the PACER Problem: Litigation, Supplication, and Agitation. Let’s consider each.


It’s probably not fruitful if everyone runs out and sues the courts over PACER. Carl’s memorandum sketches many of the challenges that such cases would face. There are people thinking about this carefully, however, and so if you believe you are particularly likely to have standing, or have other resources to contribute to such an effort, feel free to get in touch with us and we can direct you to the folks having these conversations.


Carl’s memorandum also explains that Public.Resource.Org is asking for a fee exemption from the courts …

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Help Agitate to Open Up PACER

Update: This initiative has ended.

In Chief Justice Roberts’ End of Year Report there were some astounding figures about the size and scope of PACER, the Federal system for court filings. Among his figures was the fact that there are more than “one billion retrievable documents” in PACER:

We believe that this means that PACER is the largest collection of public domain documents locked behind a pay wall. Having access to this information is vital to a functioning judiciary and we are working to break it open. recently published an excellent memo outlining a campaign to retrieve from PACER more of its contents and to create pressure for it to be opened completely. The memo, which is worth a read in itself, defines a strategy of “litigation, supplication, and agitation.”

Today we’re announcing a plan that should help with the third part of the strategy: Agitation.

Here’s how it will work:

  1. Today, you sign up for our email list.
  2. PACER provides a fee waiver for …
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Senator Leahy Wants PACER Documents Back Online

Last Friday, it was reported by the Washington Post and Ars Technica that Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, had sent a letter to Judge Bates, the head of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AO), urging the AO to put back online the recently-removed PACER documents from five courts. I had not seen the full letter posted anywhere yet, so I present it here.

Free Law Project agrees with Senator Leahy that taking these documents offline represents “a dramatic step backwards” and that the Courts’ currently proposed work-around represents “a troubling increase in costs…” We hope the AO will be open to restoring online access to these documents and stand ready to help make these documents freely available online for the public were that agreeable to the AO.

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The Importance of Backups

Burning of the Library of Alexandria

The Burning of the Library of Alexandria, an illustration from ‘Hutchinsons History of the Nations’, c. 1910.

At least since the destruction of the Ancient Library of Alexandria, the world has known the importance of having a backup. The RECAP archive of documents from PACER is a partial backup of documents taken offline by five federal courts. It is impossible to determine how complete a backup we have, because the problem with missing documents is that you cannot even determine that they are missing without a complete list of what used to be available. No such lists exist for the documents from these five courts.

But as coverage of this surprising and unprecedented action by PACER officials continues (see techdirt), the BBC has an article that takes an interesting approach by pointing out some of the landmark civil rights cases taken off PACER through this action.

The BBC mentions the case Ricci v. DeStefano which was decided at the Second Circuit while  Sonia Sotomayor was a Circuit Judge. Sotomayor, now a Supreme Court Justice, had her role in deciding the case closely scrutinized during her Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Many who dug in to Sotomayor’s background during those hearings …

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Free Law Project Joins Request for Access to Offline PACER Documents

A recent announcement on the federal PACER website indicated that PACER documents from five courts prior to certain dates (pre-2010 for two courts, pre-2012 for one court, etc.) would no longer be available on PACER. The announcement was reported widely by news organizations, including the Washington Post and Ars Technica. The announcement has now been changed to explain, “As a result of these architectural changes, the locally developed legacy case management systems in the five courts listed below are now incompatible with PACER; therefore, the judiciary is no longer able to provide electronic access to the closed cases on those systems.” See a screenshot of the earlier announcement without this explanation:

Original PACER announcement

Original PACER announcement

This morning, Free Law Project signed on to five letters from the non-profit, Public.Resource.Org, headed by Carl Malamud, asking the Chief Judge of each of these five courts to provide us with access to these newly offline documents. The letter proposes that we be provided access in order to conduct privacy research, particularly with respect to the presence of social security numbers in court records, as Public.Resource.Org has done previously in several contexts. In addition we offer to host all the documents …

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Using PACER — What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

If you only watch one video about using the federal Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system, make it this video by Free Law Project’s Brian Carver: “Using PACER: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”

The video provides a demonstration of what a regular member of the public might experience trying to find a copy of a recent newsworthy federal district court opinion on the court’s website and through the federal PACER system. This example was genuinely chosen because Brian himself had heard about a recent newsworthy case out of the District Court for the District of Maryland. In fact, we’re fairly sure that other examples might cast these sites in an even worse light.

Free Law Project believes that Congress should provide adequate funding to the federal courts so that the financial argument for PACER’s fees would be moot and everyone could agree that public access to court records should be free. But even in the absence of that, we conclude from this demonstration that the non-document related fees in PACER for search results and reports that are charged without an interstitial warning of their magnitude are particularly onerous and should be abolished. The courts …

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Our RECAP partnership with Princeton University’s CITP

Today Free Law Project announced that it is partnering with Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy to manage the operation and development of the RECAP platform. Most readers here will know that the RECAP platform utilizes free browser extensions to improve the experience of using PACER, the electronic public access system for U.S. federal courts, and crowdsources the creation of a free and open archive of public court records.

I have been frustrated with PACER for a long time: as a member of the public, as a law student, as a litigator, as an academic, and as one trying to build systems for public access to court documents. I’ve been frustrated by the price per page, by the price for searches with no results, by the shocking price for inadvertent searches with thousands of results, by the occasional price for judicial opinions that are supposed to be free, by the price in light of the fact that Congress made clear that the Judicial Conference “may, only to the extent necessary, prescribe reasonable fees… for access to information available through automatic data processing equipment” when it has been demonstrated time and again that PACER revenues grossly exceed …

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Two RECAP Grants Awarded in Memory of Aaron Swartz

In memory of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, Think Computer Foundation ( and the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) at Princeton University ( are announcing the winners of two $5,000 grant awards for improving RECAP.

Since 2009, a team of researchers at Princeton has worked on a web browser-based system known as RECAP ( that allows citizens to recapture public court records from the federal government’s official PACER database. The Administrative Office of the Courts charges per-page user fees for PACER documents, which makes it expensive to access these public records. RECAP allows users to easily share the records that they purchase to and freely access documents that others have already purchased.

Shortly after the unexpected death of Mr. Swartz, Think Computer Foundation announced that it would fund grants worth $5,000 each to extend RECAP and make use of data contained in Think Computer Foundation’s PlainSite database of legal information.

Two of these grants are being awarded today.

Ka-Ping Yee, a Canadian software developer living in Northern California, has created a version of RECAP for Google’s Chrome browser. This gives RECAP a much larger base of …

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$10,000 in Further Awards for RECAP Projects

Today, teams across the country are hard at work on the Aaron Swartz Memorial Grants. These grants, offered by the Think Computer Foundation, provide $5,000 awards for three different projects related to RECAP.

We are delighted to announce additional awards. The generous folks over at Google’s Open Source Programs team have pledged to support two more RECAP-related project awards — at $5,000 each. These are open to anyone who wishes to submit a proposal for a significant improvement to the RECAP system. We will work with the proposers to scope the project and define what qualifies for the award. All projects must be open source.

There are several potential ideas. For instance, someone might propose add support to RECAP for displaying the user’s current balance and prompting the user to liberate up to their free quarterly $15 allocation as the end of the quarter approaches (inspired by Operation Asymptote). Someone might propose to improve the interface, and to improve detection and removal of private information. Someone might propose some other idea that we haven’t thought of. You may wish to watch the discussion of a few of these initial ideas …

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