Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy and the non-profit Free Law Project are announcing a partnership today to operate RECAP jointly. Starting today, Free Law Project will take the lead on maintaining and developing the RECAP system. RECAP’s creators have moved from CITP to start new stages of their careers and Free Law Project is well-positioned to handle the day-to-day maintenance of RECAP. Steve Schultze, one of the original creators of RECAP, said, “Harlan, Tim, and I are delighted that RECAP will be stewarded by the excellent team at Free Law Project, which shares our audacious vision of making the public law free to the public.”
In addition to potential improvements to the RECAP platform, Free Law Project intends to seek funding to integrate RECAP’s documents with Free Law Project’s CourtListener platform. This partnership therefore creates the potential to put together the largest freely-downloadable collection of court documents online. CITP will continue to support RECAP and by working with Free Law Project hopes to ensure RECAP’s long-term stability and development.
In memory of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, Think Computer Foundation (http://www.thinkcomputer.org) and the Center for Information Technology Policy (CITP) at Princeton University (http://citp.princeton.edu) are announcing the winners of two $5,000 grant awards for improving RECAP.
Since 2009, a team of researchers at Princeton has worked on a web browser-based system known as RECAP (http://recapthelaw.org) that allows citizens to recapture public court records from the federal government’s official PACER database. The Administrative Office of the Courts charges per-page user fees for PACER documents, which makes it expensive to access these public records. RECAP allows users to easily share the records that they purchase to and freely access documents that others have already purchased.
Shortly after the unexpected death of Mr. Swartz, Think Computer Foundation announced that it would fund grants worth $5,000 each to extend RECAP and make use of data contained in Think Computer Foundation’s PlainSite database of legal information.
Two of these grants are being awarded today.
Today, teams across the country are hard at work on the Aaron Swartz Memorial Grants. These grants, offered by the Think Computer Foundation, provide $5,000 awards for three different projects related to RECAP.
We are delighted to announce additional awards. The generous folks over at Google’s Open Source Programs team have pledged to support two more RECAP-related project awards — at $5,000 each. These are open to anyone who wishes to submit a proposal for a significant improvement to the RECAP system. We will work with the proposers to scope the project and define what qualifies for the award. All projects must be open source.
There are several potential ideas. For instance, someone might propose add support to RECAP for displaying the user’s current balance and prompting the user to liberate up to their free quarterly $15 allocation as the end of the quarter approaches (inspired by Operation Asymptote). Someone might propose to improve the archive.recapthelaw.org interface, and to improve detection and removal of private information. Someone might propose some other idea that we haven’t thought of. You may wish to watch the discussion of a few of these initial ideas from our developer kickoff session.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. Thanks again to the Think Computer Foundation and Google.
Last week, our community lost Aaron Swartz. We are still reeling. Aaron was a fighter for openness and freedom, and many people have been channeling their grief into positive actions for causes that were close to Aaron’s heart. One of these people is Aaron Greenspan, creator of the open-data site Plainsite and the Think Computer Foundation. He has established a generous set of grants to be awarded to the first person (or group) that develops the following upgrades to RECAP, our court record liberation system. RECAP would not exist without the work of Aaron Swartz.
Three grants are being made available related to RECAP. Each grant is worth $5,000.00:
- Grant 1: Develop and release a version of RECAP for the Google Chrome browser that matches the current Firefox browser extension functionality
- Grant 2: Develop and release a version of RECAP for Internet Explorer that matches the current Firefox browser extension functionality
- Grant 3: Update the Firefox browser extension to capture appellate court documents, and update the RECAP server code to parse them and respond appropriately to browser extension requests
For more details, see The Aaron Swartz Memorial Grants. If you are interested, you must register by the end of January.
We are honored to be part of one of the many projects being undertaken in Aaron Swartz’s honor.
XRDS Magazine recently ran an article by Steve Schultze and Harlan Yu entitled Using Software to Liberate U.S. Case Law. The article describes the motivation behind RECAP, and outlines the state of public access to electronic court records.
Using PACER is the only way for citizens to obtain electronic records from the Courts. Ideally, the Courts would publish all of their records online, in bulk, in order to allow any private party to index and re-host all of the documents, or to build new innovative services on top of the data. But while this would be relatively cheap for the Courts to do, they haven’t done so, instead choosing to limit “open” access.
Since the first release, RECAP has gained thousands of users, and the central repository contains more than 2.3 million documents across 400,000 federal cases. If you were to purchase these documents from scratch from PACER, it would cost you nearly $1.5 million. And while our collection still pales in comparison to the 500 million documents purportedly in the PACER system, it contains many of the most-frequently accessed documents the public is searching for.
As with many issues, it all comes down to money. In the E-Government Act of 2002, Congress authorized the Courts to prescribe reasonable fees for PACER access, but “only to the extent necessary” to provide the service. They sought to approve a fee structure “in which this information is freely available to the greatest extent possible”.
However, the Courts’ current fee structure collects significantly more funds from users than the actual cost of running the PACER system.