On the one hand, it’s nice that PDF documents are basically just electronic versions of paper documents. It makes it easier for non-techie people to wrap their heads around paperless documents. On the other hand, if you cannot get past that simple analogy, you aren’t taking advantage of the medium.
The Minnesota bankruptcy court just announced (pdf) that it will be making digital audio files of court proceedings available to the public through PACER for $2.40 each. That’s substantially more than Bieber’s singles go for, and probably no better for dancing.
What I really wonder, however, is whether the court system is making a profit on PACER. It better be, because I can’t imagine how it could possibly justify charging $2.40 for a few megabytes of audio — not to mention $.10 per page for PDFs — if it isn’t turning a tidy profit on those downloads. Although if PACER is profitable, I hope someone who can do something about it will vote to channel some of those profits into making PACER not suck.
It is a popular but inaccurate belief that Westlaw and LexisNexis are the only options if you don’t want to get ripped apart at every court hearing because you missed the latest controlling appellate decision. In fact, Westlaw is one of the slowest ways to get federal court decisions, and LexisNexis is not the only place to check for up-to-the-minute court decisions, either.
The most-quickly-updated case law is free, and the next-most-quickly-updated case law may be on FastCase, which costs much less than Westlaw or LexisNexis.
Update: The federal courts are just fine with attorneys using RECAP. They just want you to be careful about computer security in general.
Last week I wrote about RECAP, a Firefox extension that automatically uploads PACER documents to the free, public repository. Shortly afterward, the federal courts sent out an ominous warning full of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt), suggesting that RECAP was dangerous, open-source software.
Paul Levy at Consumer Law & Policy Blog expertly picks apart the courts’ e-mail:
In other words, the courts’ experts have not been able to find any present security concerns, but they want users to worry that “open source” software is more vulnerable to malign modifications. Be afraid. Be VERY afraid.
RECAP is open source, which means anyone can find flaws or suggest improvements. But RECAP is maintained by Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy. While anyone can edit the code, the CITP decides what gets released to the public.
RECAP appears to be a solid project. Plus, it can save you and your clients money and it will help bring public records into the light.
U.S. courts insist on charging for access to electronic court documents. Ostensibly, this is because the clumsy PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system is also overpriced—who would have guessed!?
Fortunately, many PACER documents are also online and available for free at public.resource.org, an ambitious effort to collect public records and provide the public with free access to them (revolutionary!).
But until now, public.resource.org has not been particularly easy to use, either. Enter RECAP, a brilliant Firefox extension that mashes public.resource.org and PACER together.