Schultze on PACER, RECAP, and the Movement to Free American Case Law

Stephen Schultze of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy has posted PACER, RECAP, and the Movement to Free American Case Law, on the VoxPopuLII Blog, published by the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School.

In this post, Mr. Schultze describes the origins of RECAP, an innovative project to publicly disseminate U.S. federal court documents on the free Web. Mr. Schultze explains recent criticisms of PACER, the U.S. federal courts‘ fee-based documents database, and describes the efforts of technologists to improve public access to PACER documents.

Mr. Schultze shows how efforts to add the contents of PACER to the growing body of U.S. legal information available free of charge on the Internet constitute an implementation of the policy approach advocated by David Robinson et al. in their influential article, Government Data and the Invisible Hand. Mr. Schultze also relates the RECAP project to the Law.gov legal open government data project.

Mr. Schultze’s post will be of interest to developers of legal information systems, the transparency and free-access-to-law communities, the government information policy community, and all who are interested in improving public access to legal information.

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Unfortunately, the Free Law Project has decided to charge other organizations money to access RECAP documents, and it now denies access to organizations which refuse to pay. The new version of the RECAP plug-in only uploads documents to the FLP’s own CourtListener site, while other sites, such as PlainSite and the United States Courts Archive, are no longer being updated. This decision was made in secret with no public discussion, and it was made despite the FLP’s stated position that court documents should be free and freely available to everyone. For more information, please see https://www.plainsite.org/articles/20171130/why-plainsite-no-longer-supports-the-recap-initiative/