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.

State – A Roll-Your-Own Streaming App

There is a new kid on the block in the game of stream-management and that kid is State. Similar tools  have come before, with Friendfeed the most notable – apps that allow you to take your content from other applications and combine it into a single application much like braiding strands of hair into a single coil. The benefit to the user is a one-stop location at which the user’s own content can be managed and viewed, as well as a single vantage point for that user to view and interact with the streams of his or her follows. This was the point behind the popular Friendfeed, which has lost its luster in the wake of a talent sale to Facebook, and appears to be the driving force behind State.

It is not a clone, however. For example, your content isn’t just passively pushed into the service. You connect your services (five at the moment for bringing in content – Twitter, App.net, Instagram and, very interestingly, Dropbox, as well as Instapaper for sending out content), and build out your stream manually. When you add content using the icons on a “workspace” page, which you can rename with a better description of your page, you can select the incoming stream, then the resource – in other words the filter of content by filters that are meaningful to the service, including home timeline, mentions, user, place, tag, search, list, location, favorite, etc. Then fiddle with the content box dimensions containing the stream content and create a boxy-magazine like look. You can have several workspaces accessible by dropdown arrow.

You will also be able to follow others streams if users choose to make them public, and you can choose to make yours public or keep them private. Thus, when State really gets going (and hopefully hooks up more services), you will be able to use it as a content discovery tool and a personal content curation tool. The interface is unique and interesting. I can see the benefit as more services are added – and can definitely see the utility from both sides (managing your own and viewing others content) of the content coin.

You can ask for access to the private beta at the link above, and check out a demo of how State works. Can’t wait to see how this tool develops.