Caselaw Access Project •

Jonathan Zittrain statement for the record on access to legal information

Updated at 11:44am to include a PDF of the statement.

Today at 10am, a statement for the record from our faculty director and Vice Dean, Library And Information Resources, Jonathan Zittrain, will be part of House Judiciary Committee’s IP Subcommittee hearing on Judicial Transparency and Ethics. You can watch the hearing live at the link!

Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Darrell Issa released the following joint statement prior to the hearing:

Tomorrow the IP Subcommittee will hold an important oversight hearing to examine the many issues facing our federal courts system. The oversight hearing will look at several transparency issues, including the effectiveness of the PACER service and use of audio and video recordings of courtroom procedures. Additionally, the hearing will examine internal judicial disciplinary rules and procedures.

Zittrain’s statement will discuss the importance of and need for public access to court decisions and related issues.

Caselaw Access Project Scanning Now Complete

Post by Kim Dulin and Meg Kribble

We at the Harvard Law School Library are thrilled to report a major milestone achieved in our our Caselaw Access Project (CAP), which will make U.S. state and federal court decisions freely accessible online.

Last Friday at 3:29pm, we finished scanning the final volume of material. Since CAP launched in 2013, we have scanned 39,796 volumes and 38.6 million pages of material covering 334 years of American caselaw.

Many teams–totaling dozens of contributors from across the HLS Library and beyond–shaped the project plan and built the technical infrastructure to support the work that our project digitization team carried out. We are deeply grateful to all contributors to the project
from inception to date for their hard work and dedication.

Next steps in the project include continuing quality control, converting the scanned images into machine-readable text files, extracting individual cases into individual files, redacting headnotes and other editorial content, and finally making the redacted images and text files freely accessible online, which we hope to complete by the end of 2017.

We would be remiss if we did not once again thank our partner in this adventure, Ravel Law, without whose funding and support CAP would not have been possible. Thank you!

Learn about Caselaw Access Project on the radio!

Two weeks ago, WBUR’s Bruce Gellerman and crew paid us a visit to record a segment on our Caselaw Access Project (CAP), which will make all U.S. case law freely accessible online. You may have heard the result this morning.

If you missed it or you’d like a replay, you can catch the story on WBUR’s website. Although the transcript appears in print along with some photos, we recommend listening to get the experience of what the process sounds like as well looks like!

Learn more about the Caselaw Access Project from our past CAP posts or our Library Innovation Law website.

 

Caselaw Access Project

The Harvard Law School Library is pleased to announce “Caselaw Access Project” as the formal name for its long-running project to help make U.S. state and federal court decisions freely accessible online.

The Library began this project internally in 2013 under the name “Free the Law” as a pilot to explore the feasibility and viability of digitizing its nearly comprehensive collection of over 42,000 bound volumes of published court decisions. In 2015, the Library publicly announced the initiative and its unique partnership with Ravel Law, a legal research and analytics platform, to transform and provide free public access to the millions of court decisions within these volumes.

Over the past few months, we have had the privilege to work closely with Mike Lissner of Free Law Project, a non-profit working to provide high-quality legal data to researchers, journalists and organizations. Working with Mike, we have begun exploring paths for collaboration between our projects to ensure that together we are making the greatest possible impact on the problem of access to legal information. Already we have exchanged many ideas and learned a great deal from each other. Our first, small collaborative step has been to share our respective databases of reporters. We hope and expect there will be more collaboration to come.  

Through our discussions with Mike, however, it has become evident that the similarity of our projects’ names has been a needless impediment. While our projects are similar in vision and values, they are distinct. They differ in important respects. While we continue to pursue avenues for collaboration, we are eager to prevent confusion or misunderstanding, and we believe publicly naming the Harvard-Ravel initiative the “Caselaw Access Project” will help us achieve that goal.

Caselaw Access Project: What We’re Finding in the Case Reports

The HLS Library’s Caselaw Access Project aims to provide free online access to our Library’s entire collection of U.S. court decisions. Every day we’re transforming over 100,000 pages into digital images. Eventually those images will become machine-readable text that lawyers, citizens, researchers and developers of all stripes will be able to access and use.

But along the way we’re making some amazing discoveries in the centuries-old print material we’re digitizing. The latest?

Take a look at what Digital Projects Archivist Kerri Fleming found in this Reporter’s Note from Volume 32 of the Georgia Reports, which includes cases decided in 1861:

 

FTL GA Case Reporter 1861

Reporter’s Note from volume 32 of the Georgia Reports (1861). (click image to enlarge)

The anonymous Reporter of Decisions explained in striking detail why the volume’s publication was delayed until 1869: “Early in 1862, the Reporter entered the military service of the Confederate States, and continued therein until he was disabled. … During the war, the house of the Reporter was burned, and his books and papers, including many of the cases in original manuscript, were destroyed. The printed part of the volume was destroyed with the Printing House in the city of Atlanta. … The close of the war, found the Reporter, like thousands of his fellow-countrymen, poor and destitute …  Sixty-five cases in this volume were destroyed, and had to be gotten up anew … ”

This extraordinary note highlights not only the historical and geographical context in which these decisions were published but also the dedication and professionalism of Reporters of Decisions, who continue their important public service today.

The Harvard Law School Library’s collection of manuscript and printed case reports spans the centuries from 1268 to the present, and includes jurisdictions around the world. As our work on the Caselaw Access Project progresses and we continue to rediscover the print materials making this digital project possible, we hope to share more finds like this!

Post contributed by Kerri Fleming and Adam Ziegler. Post edited 8/30/2016 to update the name of the project.

Caselaw Access Project – Overview

Project Summary

Problem: Our common law is not freely accessible online. This lack of access to the law impairs justice and equality and stifles innovation.

Goal: Transform the official print versions of all historical U.S. court decisions into digital files made freely accessible online. Encourage and assist federal and state courts in making all prospective court decisions freely accessible online.

Scope:

  • All official reported decisions of the federal courts
  • All official reported decisions of the courts of every state
  • All territorial and pre-statehood decisions in HLSL’s collection
  • Estimated 43,000 volumes and 40MM pages

Process:

  1. Get the books from HLSL or Harvard Depository
  2. Scan the books using a high-speed scanner (~450K pages per week)
  3. Preserve the books in long-term underground storage
  4. Convert the scanned images into machine-readable text files
  5. Extract the individual cases into individual text files
  6. Redact headnotes and other editorial content
  7. Make the redacted images and text files freely accessible online

Projected Timeline:

  • 2015: Ramp up digitization production
  • 2016 (projected): digitize 25MM-30MM pp → CA, NY, MA, IL, TX, U.S. cases accessible for search
  • 2017 (projected): digitize remaining 10MM-15MM pp → All cases accessible for search

Harvard – Ravel Agreement – Key Terms

Funding:

  • Ravel pays total costs of digitization

Digitization Responsibilities:

  • Harvard responsible for scanning books
  • Ravel (via vendor) responsible for converting scanned images to text files

Data Ownership and License:

  • Harvard owns the resulting data
  • Ravel gets a temporary exclusive license to commercially exploit redacted files
    • Maximum duration of exclusive commercial license is 8 years
    • Early expiration of exclusive commercial license if:
      • Ravel does not meet its obligations
      • a given jurisdiction publishes its future court decisions online in an acceptable format. Illinois and Arkansas have already satisfied this condition.

Data Access Rights and Obligations:

  • Harvard
    • Harvard may provide anyone with public access to the redacted files, subject to a bulk access limitation
    • Harvard may provide Harvard community members and outside research scholars with free bulk access to the entire dataset, provided they accept contractual prohibitions on redistribution
  • Ravel
    • Ravel will provide ongoing free public access to the redacted files, subject to a bulk access limitation
    • Ravel will provide developers ongoing API access to the redacted files
      • Free access for non-profit developers
      • Paid access for for-profit developers

Other Notable Terms:

  • Harvard has a 4% equity interest in Ravel, with any proceeds going to a sustainability fund to support the project.
  • Should Ravel stop offering public access, Harvard will be able to do so with the necessary Ravel software.

 

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