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Freeing America’s Operating System

Mike Linksvayer, February 11th, 2008

Last November Carl Malamud’s Public.Resource.Org announced an initiative to free 1.8 million pages of U.S. case law, publishing them online with no restrictions on reuse.

Today the results of this initiative are available at http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/.

From the press release (pdf):

Today’s release covers all U.S. Supreme Court decisions and all Courts of Appeals decisions from 1950 on. The release is equivalent to 1,858 volumes of case law in book form, a stack of books 348 feet tall.

The files have all been converted to the XHTML standard and make extensive use of CSS style sheets to allow developers to build new search engines and user interfaces. Since the U.S. Courts do not yet digitally sign their documents, a SHA1 hash is provided on their behalf.

The source of this case law is a transaction previously announced with Fastcase, Inc., a leading provider of American legal research tools. Public.Resource.Org and Creative Commons were represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in this transaction.

Purchase of this valuable data was made possible by generous donations from a group that includes the Omidyar Network and several individuals including David Boies, the Elbaz Family Foundation, and John Gilmore.

Quotes, also from the release — David Boies:

Practical access for all Americans to legal cases and material is essential to the rule of law. The Legal Commons is an important step in reducing the barriers to effective representation of average citizens and public interest advocates.

Lawrence Lessig:

Just as markets are premised on the free flow of information, so is our democratic system of government. Creative Commons is proud to be working with Public.Resource.Org to deliver this important governmental and judicial material back into the public domain.

Carl Malamud (emphasis added):

Developers and interested members of the public are invited to join our open discussion group which will evaluate the format of this public domain data. These cases and codes are America’s operating system and for the first time Americans can use them with freedom.

Read whole release, get the data.

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