Setting American case law free

I was pleased to read about another step forward for the Creative Commons:

Carl Malamud’s nonprofit organization Public.Resource.Org and the legal research company Fastcase today announced an agreement that will allow Public.Resource.Org to publish 1.8 million pages of federal case law in the public domain. The archive, which will become available sometime in 2008, will include all U.S. courts of appeals decisions since 1950 and all Supreme Court decisions since 1754… The cases will be marked with a new Creative Commons mark — CC-Ø — that signals that there are no copyrights or other related rights attached to the content.

I recall how we law students used to scramble for the same case books on our reading list as our library only had a few copies of each year. We would also hog the library computers downloading journals. At the time, most serious texts were only available via the library, not the Internet. How times have changed in ten years. At least American case law will be easier to access now.*
I also remember how, before I even heard of the name ‘Creative Commons’, I used to get excited over works that had fallen into the public domain. Over a slow dialup modem in my dorm room, I would trawl the Internet and collect links to texts written by authors long deceased. I think the enthusiasm was due to my interest in literature (as a former Arts student) combined with my growing interest in Intellectual Property.
While revisiting older versions of my website at, I dug up an article I wrote, as a law student, on the public domain. I will share it with you in another post soon.
* – digression. I sense a business opportunity here. While companies that are currently selling access to American case law may be starting to sweat at the news, there will be a new demand: for services which help lawyers and students process the information. Say, for instance, you’re preparing for a case and you’ve got a number of precedents to cite. In addition you’d like to find out which of the older cases were cited in newer cases, and whether they were considered by the judges as valid.
It will be complex and laborious but a system that can help bookmark or keep track of selected cases and show the link between them all, would be helpful. Also, ranking may be required. You may wish to cite newer cases as they may have more relevance. As relevant new cases arrive (tagged by keywords), lawyers can be notified – say, via an automated email or by RSS. A company that can tie all these things together can sell this online service based on a subscription model, to law firms. I sense Fastcase does these things at a more basic level, they’re at “Web 1.5” in terms of features and they could add a bit more dynamism to take it to “2.0”, for want of a better name.
I’ll throw down the gauntlet and see if anybody with an entrepreneurial spirit will take on this opportunity.