Libraries Denied Access to Public Records

Here's an interesting article on the consolidation of case law publishers. Though many courts publish this information themselves, there's apparently no governing law for how and where such information should be published. There are also few archives of older (pre-Internet) case law. The result is that two companies control access to the vast majority of case law, information that rightly belongs to the public.

The author of the article finds fault with the publishers, LexisNexis and West Group, as they will not allow libraries to pay for a subscription or even allow fee based access to the publisher's material. Individuals can access the records for a fee, of course. At $9 or more per document, the price alone will prevent most people from ever seeing these public records.

It would seem, however, that the problem is not the entrepreneurs who have found creative ways to publish the material, but the government that has let public information get swallowed up by private companies. Besides distributing the material, the publishers have integrated value added content such as comments and legal forms. They provide ubiquitous searching of disparate local and federal sources.

Regardless, the author makes a good case (pun intended) for why this information should be available to the public free of charge, especially to students, researchers, and litigants representing themselves. The public has already paid for this information once. It would seem atrocious to make the public pay for this information a second time.

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