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Sunday, 30th August 2009

Firefox Plug-In Frees Court Records, Threatens Judiciary Profits

Firefox Plug-In Frees Court Records, Threatens Judiciary Profits

Access to the nationís federal law proceedings just got a public interest hack, thanks to programmers from Princeton, Harvard and the Internet Archive, who released a Firefox plug-in designed to make millions of pages of legal documents free.

Free as in beer and free as in speech.

The Problem: Federal courts use an archaic, document-tracking system known as PACER as their official repository for complaints, court motions, case scheduling and decisions. The system design resembles a DMV computer system, circa 1988 ó and lacks even the most basic functionality, such as notifications when a case gets a new filing. But whatís worse is that PACER charges 8 cents per page (capped at $2.40 per doc) and even charges for searches ó an embarrassing limitation on public access to information, especially when the documents are copyright-free.

The Solution: RECAP, a Firefox-only plugin, that rides along as one usually uses PACER ó but it automatically checks if the document you want is already in its own database. The plug-inís tagline, ĎTurning PACER around,í alludes to the fact that its name comes from spelling PACER backwards. RECAPís database is being seeded with millions of bankruptcy and Federal District Court documents, which have been donated, bought or gotten for free by open-government advocate Carl Malamud and fellow travelers such as Justia.

And if the document you request isnít already in the public archive, then RECAP adds the ones you purchase to the public repository.

Source: Wired

Hat tip: JM


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