Free Law Project To Promote Access to Law, For Free

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Court opinions and records are in the public domain, and therefore open to the public, of course. But not for free – just try to secure a case from PACER. UC Berkeley School of Information assistant professor Brian Carver and UC Berkeley alumnus Michael Lissner have taken the law into their own hands, so to speak, and have formed a non-profit organization called the Free Law Project with the goal of providing free and easy to access legal content for download. As can be seen from their About page, the idea is:

  • to provide free, public, and permanent access to primary legal materials on the Internet for educational, charitable, and scientific purposes to the benefit of the general public and the public interest;
  • to develop, implement, and provide public access to technologies useful for legal research;
  • to create an open ecosystem for legal research and materials;
  • to support academic research on related technologies, corpora, and legal systems; and
  • to carry on other charitable activities associated with these purposes, including, but not limited to, publications, meetings, conferences, trainings, educational seminars, and the issuance of grants and other financial support to educational institutions, foundations, and other organizations exclusively for educational, charitable, and scientific purposes as allowed by law.

The end result will look much like other research tools, in that it will offer access to current and historical state and federal court decisions via search interface, with alerts, advanced search and citator services. Another cool thing, they will use open licenses for their software –  Juriscraper and CourtListener.  Because they are open, anyone can take the software and make it do more, better, faster, more awesomer things. For instance, the ultra-interesting Ravel Law has used the Free Law Project databases to shore up its own content.

It has always rubbed me the wrong way that court documents and judicial opinions are supposed to be open, public documents but that you can’t get them without paying a gatekeeper. This runs completely counter to how the Internet does and should work, IMHO. This principle is what activist Aaron Swartz gave his life to promote. Making money off of access to the law reminds me of paying for bottled water. Why? We already pay for the systems that generate the resource.

Kudos to Carver and Lissner for doing their part to break down those walled gardens.

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iPhone. In Color.

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Just a brief note here on the big Apple event today where the new iPhones were announced (along with a few other details concerning iOS 7). For the first time, Apple will be offering two new versions of its phone at the same time: the 5C (c is for color, NOT cheap) and the 5S (for speed, most likely). Color and speed are pretty much the biggest differences between these two models, although price also differs. The 5C will come in 16 and 32 GB flavors ($99 and $199 on contract, respectively), in green, blue, yellow, red or white. Molded single piece plastic back and full touchscreen front. It does have a 4″ retina display as well, along with a 8 MP camera. It is essentially a colorful plastic version of the iPhone 5.

The 5S packs a lot more brainpower, as well as color choice. The cool with this one is a new 64 bit A7 mobile processor. It is claimed to be the first of its kind. It will also feature a mobile “coprocessor” to better read and track device movement. It will then use the better motion knowledge to feed you the information you want – driving directions while in a car and walking directions while on foot. New dual flash to improve picture quality, and a fingerprint identity sensor, which “snaps a pic” of your print and will then let you unlock and authenticate with iTunes using only your print. You can use multiple prints on the phone. The camera has a larger image sensor and aperture and increase in light sensitivity. There are all sorts of support features for the camera for stability and image improvement and a slow mo mode for video. You can live zoom the video while recording. With a nod to Instagram, you can also employ square format and filters on your photos within the app. Better Facetime now with an HD Facetime camera. You can get it in gold (ugh), black and grey / silver, for $199 on contract for the 16 GB,  $299 for the 32 GB and $399 for the 64 GB, on contract.

iOS 7, not surprisingly, is built to fit the 5S – it is now a 64 bit operating system. I won’t go into exhaustive detail on it, as I did discuss it already in another post here. I will add though that the Apple apps that have been paid to date (iPhoto, iMovie, Keynote, Pages, Numbers) will be free on at least these new devices and iOS7 compatible devices. Now THAT is cool.  iOS 7 will be available on September 18, 2013 and it is anticipated the phones will be available within a couple days thereafter.

Will I buy one? I am not sure. My iPhone 5 is still more than serviceable. I am thinking I will wait and see how well iOS 7 runs on it. If it gets laggy, I might consider the upgrade as I have little patience for slow phones. Will you buy one? What do you think? Does Apple still have the shiny? It will be interesting to see the sales numbers and whether Android really has taken a chunk of Apple’s territory.