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Founding of RECAP

Great post on the Cornell Legal Information Institute‘s blog, Vox PopuLII, on the events that led to the development of RECAP.  I don’t entirely understand what made the feds so nervous about the mass downloading of documents that are already open to the public–we’re not talking about private diplomatic correspondence, à la Wikileaks, after all.  My guess is they felt they were being “robbed.”  PACER at the time was available for free only through a few designated computers in a few designated locations, hence only a few people with time (read: not attorneys) would use the terminals to access a few documents from cases of personal interest.

Certainly the courts do not “own” filed documents and cannot claim a financial stake in them.  An interesting comparison lies between documents filed with the court and court opinions, which are created by the court.  Courts have never monetized those opinions, as far as I am aware; in fact, courts have provided those opinions freely to publishers like West and Lexis for decades.  The law has been clear for a long time that courts do not have a copyright interest in their opinions.  Yet opinions are the work of the court, while filings (and most of the documents available through PACER) are not.  It is ironic that they managed to monetize the latter and not the former, although understandable considering the history of access of court documents.

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  1. chancyxie
    February 10, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    I am also quite confused about the conservative attitudes of Federal courts in the issue of letting all available cases to go to public free. Expenses might play adverse role in this trend. As we have discussed in the class, it proves to be that feds are charging more than they need to maintain the system. Even thought this maintaining expense is indispensable, I do not think charging from those needy users, who probably are not wealthy enough to hire a lawyer to do the searching for them, is not justifiable.

    As an international student, I have been so fascinated about the free atmosphere either in academic or in politics in the U.S.A. When I first tried to utilize those free website learned from the class and witnessed all the overwhelming disclosure information the U.S government and legislative put in the official website, I could not stop thinking about my country. I knew that China has a long, long way to go in that direction. Inside or outside China, there are condemnations about the corruption of government and claims for the transparency of its operation. I used to work as a volunteer for the local legal aid center. The center is focused to help those come from the lowest income of society. And a large amount of them are involved in cases in which the other party was local government or even higher. Many of our clients spent years, even decades fighting for what they thought they deserved from the government, since they continued appealing to the highest court or other authorities for extensive review of the cases. However, in most circumstances, the higher courts just remain the judgment of the trial court. After I reviewed a lot of these cases, surprisingly I found that in fact the civil or criminal procedures in most cases were just (Yes, some of them really reflected serious corruption problems of the government, but still, most were not). I cannot help asking myself then why those people, or I can say, even a large amount of Chinese, simply are not willing to believe the courts can give them a result from the due procedure. Undeniably, the substantive corruption is part of the problem. The more critical part is poor disclosure. Honestly speaking, the current government has done an extraordinarily good job in controlling the abusing of powers compared to any other period in China’s history. However, the poor disclosure results in mistrust. For example, in China’s legal systems, citizens have to take excessive efforts to get a chance to check the case file in courts or any governmental documents. (Finally I can get to the point of today’s post. Sorry about going so far). The procedure of disclosure has the merits of “due procedure”. It might not necessarily help improve substantive situations. But in some extent, it is more important than substantive justice.

    I do not think the feds have any excuses to refrain public from the free cases sources, since the country has done so well in other aspects.

    After such a lengthy discussion, I would like to end up with the wishes to the improvement of China’s justice system, as well as the success of RECAP in finally realizing the free sources to public.

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