An important rationale for the lack of copyright in judicial opinions is the belief that the public should have free access to the laws they are commanded to obey. But lack of copyright is not the same thing as providing access. The Internet is beginning to solve the access problem, although difficulties remain. Court websites vary wildly, and none as far as I am aware of make available all the material they receive in electronic form.
A number of companies and organizations beside the well-known paid services of Westlaw and LEXIS/NEXIS have stepped in to fill the void, although these tend to focus on court opinions. Yesterday there was an article in Law.com was about one person who is trying to provide broader protection, Carl Malamud:
In November, Malamud and the legal research company Fastcase announced an agreement to publish 1.8 million pages of federal case law in the public domain. The archive, to become available sometime in 2008, will include all U.S. courts of appeals decisions since 1950 and all Supreme Court decisions since 1754. Notably, this public database will come about with the cooperation of Fastcase, which has agreed to sell this case law with no strings attached.
Another project is the Atlaw joint project of Columbia Law School and the University of Colorado Law School, which contains federal decisions to the early 1990s from the Supreme Court and federal appellate courts. Franklin Pierce's law school has an extensive online library of material related to IP, called the IP Mall. Last but definetly not least is The Internet Library of Law and Court Decisions is an online case digest which provides in-depth analysis of over 520 court decisions affecting those who do business on the Internet. The Library is updated regularly and can be found at http://www.internetlibrary.com
Court decisions are organized by subject matter. The user is provided with a brief synopsis of the court's decision. If the decision is of interest, a link takes the user to a more thorough analysis. Pdfs of, or links to the full text of most court decisions analyzed are also provided. A free electronic newsletter, Internet Law Update, is available to provide users with the latest cases added to the Library. A full text search engine is also available to assist in utilizing the Library's resources.
The Internet Library has analyzed cases covering a broad array of topics, including trademark and copyright infringement, dilution, use of meta tags, links, thumbnails and framing, browse wrap, click wrap and shrink wrap agreements, domain name disputes, internet service provider liability, subpoenas, online defamation, gripe sites, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, jurisdiction, the legality of gambling on the Internet, search engine advertising, licensing requirements for the operation of an online pharmacy and automobile distributorship, the legality of keying and cookies, use of e-mail in the work place, spam, the legality of pop-up ads and spyware, and First Amendment issues arising out of governmental regulation of the Internet, among others.
The Internet Library also features an Online Resources section that provides links to over 300 free