Thursday, January 24, 2008


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 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

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


Anonymous said...

That's a great thing, but I'm still more upset about the growing use of privately drafted codes, policies, etc. which have been given force of law but which I must purchase from some private party. For example, try to get a free copy of your local building code -- You probably cannot, and would be forced to pay a fairly big sum to the private party that actually wrote that code to get a copy of the source document for the applicable law.

How can we justify the use of copyright in a manner that prevents each of us from seeing the source document for our own legal obligations?

(And, let's not even get started on the unconstitutional delegation of power argument, since this is a blog about copyright after all.)

Anonymous said...

I wonder -- how would you be able to defend yourself effectively if you found yourself in court dealing with some part of a privately drafted code? Couldn't you argue that you need access to the code to defend yourself, but didn't have the funds necessary to obtain it? Would you be given some sort of special access to it for free?

Dean C. Rowan said...

"...difficulties remain." Indeed. Free access doesn't much help with identification and retrieval of pertinent cases, one of the values of West's admittedly somewhat cryptic and expensive key number system. I wonder also whether the article means Malamud's project will include all published courts of appeals decisions. In any event, sometimes the best way to locate the most relevant case law is via an authoritative treatise and a citator like Shepard's or KeyCite.

Anonymous said...

You can find more free materials here:

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Lest we not forget Alan Sugarman's Hyperlaw and also Jurisline.

See also:

Ed Walters said...

William - also of possible note is the Public Library of Law ( with a tip of the cap to the Public Library of Science), which we at Fastcase launched yesterday. It's designed to be the largest free online library in the world, and a terrific starting place for finding law on the web.