Legal Technology

'Free the Law' project by Harvard's law library is scanning books for free Internet case database

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Jonathan Zittrain

Jonathan Zittrain. File photo by Arnold Adler.

Harvard’s law library is removing the spines of most of its books and scanning the pages for a free Internet database of U.S. case law.

Startup company Ravel Law is financing the law library’s “Free the Law” project with millions of dollars, the New York Times reports. Ravel Law hopes to make money by charging for more advanced analytical tools.

A state database for California and New York decisions will be available this fall, and the entire library is expected to be available in 2017. The cases and texts can be accessed in a searchable format, and will include maps showing the evolution of a judicial concept and how each key decision is cited elsewhere, according to the Times.

Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain, who is director of the law library, says the books are not being discarded after scanning. Instead, he told the Times, the spines are being reattached and the books are put in shrink wrap. At that point, the books will be returned to a depository “for the apocalypse,” he said.

Andrew Martens, chief of legal products for Thomson Reuters, which owns Westlaw, told the Times he doesn’t think the new database will have a significant impact on the company because it offers many legal tools in addition to the cases. “Core primary law is only the beginning,” he told the Times.

See also:

ABA Journal: “Visual law services are worth a thousand words–and big money”

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