Established by President Eisenhower in 1958 and observed annually on May 1, Law Day is an institution that celebrates the rule of law. Per the ABA’s description of Law Day, the event “provides an opportunity to understand how law and the legal process protects our liberty, strives to achieve justice, and contributes to the freedoms that all Americans share.”
The Law Day theme varies from year to year, but the 2019 designation is particularly significant given our cultural and political climate: Free Speech, Free Press, and Free Society. This year, Law Day will focus on these cornerstones of the American justice system, calling us to spread awareness of and protect these rights that, as our founding fathers urged, secure “the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”
In this post, we will explore some of the key movements signifying progress in advancing Free Speech, Free Press, and Free Society within the legal field.
Free Speech and Carl Malamud’s mission to make the law free to all
Public.Resource.Org (PRO) President Carl Malamud is a storied figure in the ongoing movement to secure unfettered public access to the law. His efforts as PRO’s President can be best understood through the lens of one of his favorite quotes by Justice Stephen Breyer: “If a law isn’t public, it isn’t a law.”
Malamud’s recent victory in Code Revision Commission v. Public Resource.Org was a momentous win for Americans, settling a perennial dispute over whether the State of Georgia can claim copyright protection for the official annotations to its laws. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit concluded that when legislatures enact laws, they “are undisputedly speaking on behalf of the People,” and that as a result, “the People are the ultimate authors of the annotations.”
The Court further concluded that as a public work, the annotations are intrinsically public domain material and as such, cannot be copyrighted; they must remain open to the public. However, Georgia recently issued a writ of certiorari seeking review by the Supreme Court, so the case may receive further judicial scrutiny in the near future.
While Malamud and other open law advocates have secured watershed wins, there is no guarantee that the law in 2019 will be free of obstacles in the form of paywalls. Nonetheless, Malamud’s victory represents a promising step forward in establishing open access to legal data, while defending the public’s right to know the laws impacting their lives and livelihood.
Free Press and the dissemination of legal resources
Companies like Justia have made landmark strides in collecting and publishing free legal information used by lawyers, law students, academics, and the general public. By doing so, these organizations continue to contribute not only to more thorough, comprehensive legal research, but also to ensure the general public is able to access, absorb, and learn about the law.
Other organizations, like the Internet Archive, utilize tools that ensure access to information isn’t blocked by a single party’s attempts to remove it from the internet. The Internet Archive, which is one of the largest online libraries of information, stockpiles internet data in digital native so that it is available to download and review – even if the site administrator attempted to delete or remove the site. The Internet Archive is currently building the digital Library of Alexandria, providing “universal access to all knowledge” in digital form.
Free Society and reducing the costs of downloading legal data
Prohibitive paywalls bar open access to information and stifle innovation. One way this becomes apparent is through the excessive costs of PACER fees, which limit public access to court data.
In conjunction with key players like the Juelsgaard IP Clinic at Stanford, UniCourt was honored to participate in crafting an amicus brief in a case arguing for the reduction of PACER fees. The core argument was that access to PACER data is a tremendous barrier to innovation.
In particular, excessive PACER fees disproportionately impact startup businesses, which simply can’t afford to spend countless millions of dollars to download the documents needed to create a database of relevant court filings. As we noted in the brief: “That extremely high startup cost, exacerbated by excessive PACER fees, gives a significant advantage to the three large, established legal database companies: Westlaw, LexisNexis, and Bloomberg Law.”
This past year, UniCourt partnered with Justia to establish a PACER Collective to improve access to federal court dockets and filing information. Our PACER Collective allows us to share the cost of bulk PACER data downloads, positioning us to provide our users with more updated data at a lower cost. This, in turn, enables users to perform more up-to-date, cutting edge legal research using only the most current and accurate data.
Enshrining our commitment to education, innovation, and empowerment
There is no doubt that 2019 has thus far seen landmark moments in advancing freedom of speech, press, and society in the legal field, and the current landscape in legal tech promises further developments. The theme of this year’s Law Day is particularly important to UniCourt because of our commitment to removing barriers to information that educates, informs, and empowers lawyers and laypeople alike.
If you’re interested in learning more about UniCourt or joining our PACER Collective to make legal data more accessible and useful, we welcome you to contact us.