Open Access • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

Momentum Builds for PACER Reform and Free Public Access to Court Records

On February 13, 2019, Rep. Collins (R-GA) introduced the Electronic Court Records Reform Act (H.R. 1164) to enable free public access to federal court records in machine-readable form via PACER.

The bill is short and sweet (text available here), enjoys bipartisan support from co-sponsors Rep. Quigley (D-IL), Rep. Roe (R-TN) and Rep. Johnson (D-GA) and has earned the praise of the AALL, ACLU, ALA, ARL and many other organizations committed to public access to government information.

In summary, the bill would require the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to:

  • Consolidate all of the federal court filings and record systems into a single system;
  • Make all federal court filings publicly available online at no charge (with exceptions for redactions and filings under seal);
  • Make all federal court filings available in machine-readable, searchable, linkable form;
  • Offer states the opportunity to participate in the system at a fee set to recover the cost of the services provided to each state.

All of these are important provisions that, if enacted, will improve access to legal information and enhance the transparency of our court system.

The bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, which last year considered and reported out other measures designed to enhance public access to federal court records. Jonathan Zittrain, Jocelyn Kennedy and I recently submitted a letter to the Committee expressing support for the bill.

The bill also comes in the midst of a legal challenge to PACER’s current fee structure filed by several non-profit organizations. The case, NVLSP v. United States, is now pending on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and numerous prominent groups have filed supporting amicus briefs.

Many people have been working tirelessly on this issue for years, and much work remains before this bill becomes law. But the momentum for PACER reform is building.


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!

Celebrate Fair Use Week!

The third annual Fair Use Week, sponsored by the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC), is here!

fairuseweeklogoWait, what is Fair Use? To paraphrase from the Harvard University OGC Copyright website, Fair Use is the right to use a copyrighted work under certain conditions without permission of the copyright owner to prevent a rigid application of copyright law that would stifle the very creativity the law is designed to foster.

There are many events underway–here are some highlights!

Follow the conversation on the OSC’s copyright blogFair Use Week Tumblr, and Fair Use Week Twitter feed, where we will release details about the coveted Fair Use Week tote giveaway.

February 24

Association of Southeastern Research Libraries webinar, Mitigating Risk at the Front Lines: The Library Copyright First Responders Program at 2:00; Speaker, Kyle K. Courtney

February 25

Florida State University’s Publish or Perish: Conversations on Academic Publishing Symposium keynote address, “Where Will Publishing Be in 2030? A Look to the Future” at 2:45; Speaker, Kyle K. Courtney

February 26

Florida State University Institute on Copyright in Higher Education keynote address, “Fair Use: Past, Present, and Future of a Critical Legal Right” at 9:20 (watch the live webcast); Speaker Kyle K. Courtney

Find the full details for the week at the OSC Fair Use Week website.

Brown Bag: PACER Campaign with Carl Malamud

Come hear about the Yo.YourHonor.Org campaign!
Brown Bag with cookies
Monday, April 6th, 12:30-1:30pm
Lewis 214B, Harvard Law School (maps)

Carl Malamud is visiting the Library to talk about the Yo.YourHonor.Org campaign currently underway to make U.S. District Court documents on the PACER system much more broadly available.

Carl Malamud is the founder of Public.Resource.Org, a non-profit that helps make the law more broadly available on the Internet. Working with Larry Lessig and Creative Commons, Public Resource made historical opinions of the U.S. Court of Appeals available for the first time. Working with Aaron Swartz, Public Resource did a comprehensive audit of District Court dockets for privacy violations. In the 1990s, Carl was responsible for putting the SEC’s EDGAR database and the U.S. Patent database on the Internet. Carl is the author of 8 professional reference books and is credited as the operator of the first radio station on the Internet. He received the Berkman Award in 2008. You might remember seeing him during our events and Future of Law Libraries conference a few years back.

Casebooks and the First Sale Doctrine

What’s going on with casebooks and the first sale doctrine? If you’re a law professor or student, you may have heard rumblings last week about a new program from Wolters Kluwer’s AspenLaw called the Connected Casebook. Under the initial proposal, print casebooks would come with long term access to a digital edition with note taking and highlighting tools. In exchange, students would be required to return their print books to Aspen at the end of the term and forbidden from reselling or giving them to other students. Aspen has since backpedalled, but this arrangement is still an option.

You can read more about what happened and why this potential encroachment on the first sale doctrine is problematic in my guest post at the American Association of Law Libraries’ Washington Blawg.

While the suggestions there are intended more for law librarians, another thing you can do to help is to use and request open casebooks. There are a couple open casebook platforms (as well as some individual open casebooks), including HLS’s own H2O. 

App of the Month: Sitegeist

Sitegeist LogoIf you are one of the many students who has ventured away from the Law School campus for the summer, you might find yourself in a new city that you don’t yet know much about. One great mobile app that will help you to learn more about the demographics, popular hot spots and weather of your current location is Sitegeist. Created by the Sunlight Foundation, which ” is a non-partisan non-profit that uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable,”  this app pulls together information from a variety of publicly available APIs, such as the U.S. Census Bureau, Yelp!, and Dark Sky to create a picture of the area around you. All information is displayed in the form of visually appealing infographics and in many cases they link you out to more information if your interest is piqued. Whether you want to learn more about a city you have never visited or you are looking to familiarize yourself with a city you have lived in your whole life, Sitegeist is a fun example of how publicly available data can be used. The app is available for free for both iOS and Android devices. If you like the app, you might want to also check out the other two apps created as part of the National Data Apps series: Sunlight Health, a healthcare rating and drug safety app, and Upwardly Mobile, an app to help users find new places to live based on the available data.

Interested in finding more mobile apps? Check out our guide to Mobile Apps for Legal Research and More.

852 RARE : Just Launched: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Digital Suite!

The Harvard Law School Library is pleased to announce the release of the Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Digital Suite.  The Suite is comprised of five manuscript collections as well as three image groups. Every attempt was made to digitize as much of each collection as possible and only a small percentage of the Library’s Holmes primary material that was not digitized. The manuscript collections included in the Suite are:

A forty year old Holmes as the newly minted Lecturer on Common law at the Lowell Institute. olvwork385804.

1)    The John G. Palfrey Collection of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Papers,  1715-1938

2)     Mark DeWolfe Howe Research Materials Related to the Life of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., 1858-1968

3)    The Edward J. Holmes Collection of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Materials, 1853-1944

4)     Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Addenda, 1818-1978

5)    Letters from Holmes to Lady Castletown Small Manuscript Collection

The key component of the OWH, Jr. Suite is the discovery environment developed by the Library’s Digital Lab and called 3D (Discovery and Delivery of Digital collections). 3D enables a person to search and browse across all eight collections in the Suite from one access point. A search of the over 100,000 digitized documents and over 1,000 images can also be easily refined by the site’s faceted search functions.

The Suite also supports active involvement from users who are offered the opportunity to add tags to items as well as participate in discussions. Visitors to the site are encouraged to increase the accessibility to the collections by adding tags designating topics, names, dates, and locations to items they view.  Researchers can also participate in forum discussions about the collections themselves or topics they introduce.  By becoming active members of the OWH community, users increase the utility and discoverability of the site.

The Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Digital Suite was made possible by the work of many individuals. The Library’s Digital Lab team of Steve Chapman, Andy Silva, Lindsay Dumas and Craig Smith all developed the 3D software as well as did quality assurance checks on material returning from imaging services. Ed Moloy and Margaret Peachy of the Library’s Historical & Special Collections unit provided the finding aids with the additional metadata necessary for 3D’s optimal functionality.

Post contributed by Edwin Moloy, Curator of Modern Manuscripts

Interested in getting published?

Thinking about trying to publish in a law journal? Many law students have done it! Join the library in exploring the tools you can use to make the process of submitting an article for publication easier, including:

•how to identify potential journals and measure their impact/quality
•how to use ExpressO and other means to submit your manuscript
•how to assess publication agreements and your rights as an author

Sessions are available:
April 12th, noon-1:00pm
April 12th, 5:00-6:00pm

Register here.

More Open Access to Law from Justia

New daily opinion summary alerts service

In March, Justia launched a fabulous daily opinion summary service where you can receive alerts by jurisdiction or legal practice area.    Recently,  it announced that along with the United State Supreme Court and all Federal Appellate Courts, the service now includes all 50 states and over 60 legal practice areas/subjects.   You can have them delivered by Facebook, Twitter, or subscribe to a blog/RSS feed.

Eventually, they hope to include summary blogs with RSS feeds for all [U.S.] state supreme courts, the US Supreme Court and all Federal appellate courts.

According to Cicely Wilson at Justia, summaries are written by a team of 4 writers (lawyers), all of whom are bar-certified.

You can read the original announcement about the service and  its update when it added its 50th state at


New website for legal commentary

Justia also recently launched Verdict, a great new website dedicated to legal analysis and commentary about a variety of issues from an interesting array of contributors including Marci Hamilton and Michael Dorf.  It even includes a section with book reviews. Read more about its launch on the Justia website and check out Robert Ambrogi’s Justia launches site for legal commentary for a great description of the service.

An Interview with Jeff Dunn, creator of HLS Journals

Last year, you might have noticed some major changes to the websites for our law journals with the launch of HLS Journals, a great new platform for looking at aggregated content for most HLS journals.   We recently interviewed Jeff Dunn (Web Coordinator for the Dean of Students Office), responsible for the care and maintenance of the law journal websites.

Et Seq.: When did you launch the new aggregated service? Why did you decide to do it?
Jeff: I launched in the fall of 2010. Like most projects, it was born out of the need for me to quickly see what each journal is writing about without having to navigate to individual sites. By automatically pulling in information, I was also able to promote articles on a journal’s behalf with minimal effort. For example, HLSJournals automatically populates Facebook and Twitter and has an RSS feed all its own that users can subscribe to.

Et Seq.: What are the statistics like on it?
Jeff: Even though the site has never been promoted by HLS or any student journal, it figures prominently in search results for student journals and articles. Since it publishes articles at the exact same time as the regular journals, the web crawlers see it as a timely and authoritative source with lots of backlinks. This has led to us seeing about 2,000 pageviews/day on average. When journals are covering something more topical that people are searching for, that number has risen to nearly 10,000 pageviews/day.

Et Seq:. I know that you are also experimenting with mobile technology, including Kindle eBooks on Amazon. Do you have some preliminary download statistics, and why you decided to do it?
Jeff: The Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policyhas been the first test case for the Student Journals in the world of Kindle publishing. Thanks to the more than 300 downloads per volume, we have decided to start pushing all student journals onto the platform. This is being done alongside another big push toward other mobile apps as well.

Et Seq.: You have done a lot of major redesign on the journal websites individually. Could you share some of the enhancements, changes?
Jeff: The biggest change has to be the increase in online-only content. When I first started in 2008, most journal websites were simply lists of journal articles with some PDF links here and there. That type of site wouldn’t be tolerated by today’s typical web user. Nearly all HLS Student Journal websites are dynamic and engaging sites that are frequently updated by the students. Most enhancements over the past year have now been for a step beyond simply making nicer-looking websites. Students now want private wikis, document sharing systems, polling systems, payment systems, and more. My office is always up to the challenge and it’s always exciting when a student comes up with an innovative idea that we implement. The best part is the time when other journals see this new feature and want it for themselves as well. It just shows you that there’s a purpose to all the crazy requests you get from students. The most recent request was to “recreate LinkedIn but just for our journal” which was a bit beyond our scope. I won’t name the journal but it’s actually not a bad idea…

Et Seq.: Why do you like using WordPress as a platform for the journals?
Jeff: It’s open source and always on the cutting edge of security, optimization, and user experience. As one of the most well-regarded publishing platforms, I started using WordPress in 2007 and was glad to see that it was the victor in the publishing wars. Joomla and other platforms have simply been left in the dust by the WordPress community. As a platform for the journals, WordPress is by far the most robust and easy-to-use for the students. They are not necessarily as tech-savvy as me and my office (some students are, however) so having a relatively simple UI and UX is crucial. I certainly tested and considered other options but the WordPress ecosystem (premium theme websites, plugins, WordCamps, support forums, etc.) means WordPress will be around for a very long time, barring any sudden changes to the WordPress mission.

Et Seq.: Any other plans you can share?
Jeff: We’re jumping with both feet into the world of mobile apps. We are currently developing and testing iPad, iOS, and Android apps that aggregate and make all journal content a lot easier and more fun to find and enjoy. We also have a couple of other projects that aren’t quite ready to be made public just yet.

If you want to hear more about Jeff’s work with WordPress as a journal publishing platform, you might want to check out his remarks during October’s Implementing the Durham Statement: Best Practices for Open Access Law Journals at Duke Law School.

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