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Get Your Case Law, Free of Charge

In 2008, you're likely see a lot more case law available free of charge on the web. (More after the jump.)

The legal blogosphere is abuzz following an announcement from public.resource.org to make 1.8 million pages of federal case history available at no cost to researchers. The material includes all Courts of Appeals decisions from 1950 to the present and all Supreme Court decisions since 1754. Fastcase, a relative newcomer to the legal research database market, is selling the material to the site, which will then immediately make it available in the public domain.

From the sounds of the organization's press release, it sounds like public.resource.org's going to be doing some innovative stuff with the material:

Public.Resource.Org intends to perform an initial transformation on the federal case law archive obtained from Fastcase using open source “star” mapping software, which will allow the insertion of markers that will approximate page breaks based on user-furnished parameters such as page size, margins, and fonts. “Wiki” technology will be used to allow the public to move around these “star” markers, as well as add summaries, classifications, keywords, alternate numbering systems for citation purposes, and ratings or “diggs” on opinions.

Very Web 2.0.

So, to recap: Researchers get free access to digitized federal case law. Public.resource.org and Fastcase get some notoriety. Creative Commons gets to create a new symbol. It's a win-win-win-win situation!

Is this the beginning of the end of LexisNexis and Westlaw? Probably not. However, some good, old-fashioned market competition might yield better legal research tools at cheaper prices. Can't argue with that.

The parties involved aren't wasting any time; snapshots should be up in early 2008. We'll keep you posted.

Via Lessig.