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Friday, February 29, 2008

More free online legal research

In case you haven’t heard, more than 1.8 million court rulings are now available on a free online database created by Internet pioneer Carl Malamud.

Malamud may be best known for pushing the federal government in the mid-1990s to put corporate filings and patent documents online at no cost. Now, he’s try to get the courts to do the same.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat earlier this month reported that Malamud has posted free electronic copies of every U.S. Supreme Court decision and Court of Appeals ruling since 1950.

Apparently, Malamud hopes the move will inspire legal researchers to demand that all court rulings be made available online for free. But as those of us in the legal profession know, such a demand could negatively impact the $5 billion legal publishing industry.

Malamud says the release of the 1.8 million rulings is the first in a series that will eventually put 10 million rulings online for free.

Despite the economic problems it might cause legal publishers like the Thomson Corporation and LexisNexis, I think the idea makes sense. Court decisions are public documents, so why should the public (including lawyers) have to pay to get or print them online?

The legal database can be downloaded at http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov.

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