A couple of other access to justice considerations are important as well. PDF documents are not generally accessible to screen-reading software unless properly tagged and formatted. As libraries, courts and governmental entities switch to digital formats, they need to be sure those formats are accessible to persons with disabilities. Other critical groups, like the self-represented and seniors will have more difficulty getting information if it is only available online. Incarcerated individuals, in particular, have little or no access to technology. The more resources are moved online, the more difficult it is for those individuals to participate effectively in the justice system.
By Pamela Cardullo Ortiz on 2013 04 30, 7:30 am CDT
An interesting article. Throughout law school I performed most of my legal research online with subscription based services like Westlaw. I found the information very accessible and helpful. However, I believe this was more a product the long commute I had to endure to attend law school. It was simply easier logistically speaking for me to go online. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have spent more time in the law library if I lived closer. There is value in having a paper document to reference instead of a computer screen.
By SME on 2013 04 30, 9:01 am CDT
The real problem today is the converion of public documents to private ownership. What should be freely available now costs. If you want public records from the federal courts, you have to use Pacer and pay a fee for every document, rather than having these generally available to the public. I have seen some states and municipalities copyright their statutes! Westlaw and Lexis charge for being able to search public documents. As documents are digitized, someone will try to take them away from the public and only make them available to the public for a fee. All of these public documents should be freely available on the internet. These documents have been paid for with public money. It’s time to give them back to the public.
By Public Librarian on 2013 04 30, 10:05 am CDT
Yes, I have seen this trend as well…and not just in public documents. Look at satellite radio…I believe that this was an attempt to squeeze out terrestrial radio (which is free) and convert a once free medium into pay only. Imagine a company that develops a way to purify water cheaply. They then proceed to pullout the water supply and then charge everyone for their clean water.
By SME on 2013 04 30, 10:17 am CDT
re3 Public Librarian, “If you want public records from the federal courts, you have to use Pacer and pay a fee for every document, rather than having these generally available to the public.”
FYI, records are not free from the clerk of court to the walk-in public. Florida clerks charge $1.00 per page. To that amount, add the cost of driving to the courthouse (and parking fees in some places), or bus fare, and the aggravation of going through security, waiting in line, and dealing with a deputy clerk that may be having a bad day.
Pacer is a godsend. The cost to use Pacer is less than the cost to drive or ride the bus to the courthouse and pay for a paper copy. Pacer documents are 10 cents a page, capped at $3 per document. Pacer fees are waived for low volume users until the account exceeds $10 a month, or 100 pages+. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PACER_(law)
Some people cannot use a traditional library due to attention deficit disability, or the inability to concentrate in public places. I need absolute quiet to focus, and libraries are often quite noisy, not to mention all the distractions getting to and from the library, and the limited hours. I often work at night and on the weekends, when the library is closed. Pacer also has a search capability.
I love Pacer. http://www.pacer.gov/
That said, documents from any source are often useless for pro se folks when the judge does not read anything, and rules in favor of opposing counsel as payback for last year’s $100 campaign donation.
By love Pacer on 2013 04 30, 2:59 pm CDT
Why is there not a law stating that this is the way to keep needed information and every state would have to conform? I know, politics, but surely having easier access would be cost effective for lawyers in the long run? Library computers could be made available at courthouses for the general public use with time limits imposed on daily use. Most of the material would be confusing for use in the general public anyway. I drove 70 miles for research in a university’s law library only to find that it was digitized. What law was on paper was in small half-sheet paper size and just stuck together on a shelf with no order at all. What books were available were fast being phased out or stored somewhere else—but not for public use. Laws were created to keep records—why is a new form of record keeping not made as conformed?
By Pam on 2013 04 30, 4:30 pm CDT
In 2011 I started Law Delta—a project to put all laws of the world in one simple format. I put some million documents online: Statutory Codes of US and Canada, California and Texas. Alone. If I had any help at all the project would already have been finished.
By Daniel Malikov on 2013 05 04, 9:39 pm CDT
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