Category Archives: Public Information

Making case law accessible to all

There have been some very exciting advances in the fight to make court documents more freely accessible to everyone. As many legal researchers and law librarians are aware, many legal materials can be relatively rare or sheltered behind a paywall. Movements are afoot to change this, at least in part, and there has been progress over the past several months.

Harvard’s Case Law Access Project, which involves scanning scanning in Harvard’s entire collection of case law books, recently scanned it’s last volume. That may sound blase, but that means that nearly 44,000 volumes with roughly 40 million pages of case law have been digitized. This case law will be made freely available to anyone who needs to review it.

In addition to finishing their scanning, Harvard also recommended providing bulk digital data of future case law to make it easier to add to the currently scanned collection.  The director of Cornell’s LII and a Professor of Law from Indiana University also testified on behalf of the continued digitally accessible case law.

Lastly, and potentially most exciting, was the announcement by the Internet Archive of their desire to store PACER records from Federal Courts and make them freely available.  While it remains to be seen if this proposal will come to fruition, it is another indication of legal material becoming more easily available to anybody. For now, many PACER documents can be found via RECAP, a free website that is co-run by the Internet Archive and Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy.

As you search for case law and other legal materials, imagine how that process may become easier as it all migrates to the open web!

New Site Aims to Make Every CRS Report Publicly Available Online

If you’ve ever tried looking for a CRS Report, you know that they can be very difficult to track down.  A new site called everyCRSreport.com is hoping to make them more publicly accessible online.

Currently the site includes 8,260 CRS reports, although that number will change regularly.  It’s unclear what date range is covered by the site, although it does say that “if you’re looking for older reports, our good friends at CRSReports.com may have them.”

[update 10/27: Per @danielschuman at Demand Progress “the @EveryCRSReport website has all the reports currently available to congress. They can go back to the 90s, but not usually.”]

If you’re not familiar with CRS Reports, they are reports issued by the Congressional Research Service which is a legislative branch agency housed inside the Library of Congress.  These reports contain analytical, non-partisan information on topics of interest to members of Congress. 

Although the reports are works of the United States Government and not subject to copyright protection, the federal government has, thus far, not made them publicly available.  Numerous non profits and commercial vendors have been working to fill the gap.

According to the website, EveryCRSReport.com is a project of Demand Progress in collaboration with the Congressional Data Coalition — a bipartisan coalition founded by Demand Progress and the R Street Institute to promote open legislative information.

End of Term 2016 U.S. Government Web Archive

A collaborative group of librarians from the Library of Congress, U.S. Government Publishing Office, Internet Archive, and several other archives and universities have teamed up on a project to preserve public United States Government websites at the end of the current presidential administration ending January 20, 2017.

In this collaboration, the partners will structure and execute a comprehensive harvest of the Federal Government .gov domain.  But they need your help.  The project team is calling upon government information specialists, including librarians, political and social science researchers, and academics – to assist in the selection and prioritization of the selected web sites to be included in the collection.

Simply submit urls of your favorite or any interesting, live .gov website other federal government websites, or governmental social media account with the End of Term Nomination Tool.

For more information, see this post from the Library of Congress.

Dive into Criminal Justice Data and Statistics with “Hall of Justice”

Stats and data about any aspect of the legal world have often been notoriously difficult to track down. I know that when I am asked a question about stats at the reference desk, I always prepare myself for what could be a difficult search.

That sigh of relief you are hearing is from law librarians and legal researchers across the US as Sunlight Foundation announced their new repository of Criminal Justice statistics called “Hall of Justice”. Not only does Hall of Justice collect many datasets into one convenient place, but it also, as HOJ’s homepage puts it, brings “criminal justice data transparency” to the forefront.

This data is out there and publicly available, but it can be nearly impossible for a casual searcher (or lawyer, or law faculty, or law librarian) to locate easily. With Hall of Justice, nearly 10,000 datasets are collected in one place and tagged with relevant keywords, allowing users to quickly locate data on a wide array of criminal justice topics ranging from sexual offenders to identify theft. While the repository is not comprehensive, it is still a great step forward in making this important information much more available.

The interface is very intuitive, and a searcher can use it to search by keyword, category or location. Once you have made your initial search, you can then filter the results by Groups (who owns/created the dataset), Sectors (governmental data or non-profit), or by Access Type. This makes the searching process simple and effective.

Try it out yourself and see what useful and eye-opening data you can find.  Hall of Justice can also be found on the Law Library’s database list. If you have any questions, be sure to ask a law librarian!

DFI to Issue Apostilles & Authentications to Verify WI Docs for Use in Foreign Countries

According to a press release by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions , the DFI will join the state Secretary of State’s office in issuing apostilles and authentications – certificates needed to verify a document for use in a foreign country.

From the release:

Businesses and individuals at times need to authenticate the origin of a public document issued in Wisconsin for use in a foreign country. Some examples of such public documents are birth certificates, adoption papers, marriage licenses, corporate documents, school transcripts and trademarks. There are two ways to accomplish this:

  • By obtaining an apostille, an authentication certificate that is recognized and required by countries that are parties to a treaty called the Hague Convention of 5 October 1961. It is commonly called the Hague Convention.

  • By obtaining an authentication certificate, which is similar to an apostille but is used in countries that are not parties to the Hague Convention.

For more information, visit the DFI website.  Hat tip to Inside Track.

Search for Fair Use Cases using the US Copyright office’s new index

Copyright and it’s component Fair Use, are two of the stickiest and (at least for me!) most headache-inducing areas of law. There are so many shades of gray and changes that it can be difficult to follow whether the use of an image or video is allowed or not and under what circumstances something can be used.

Hopefully the US Copyright’s office new Fair Use Index will help make the issue a little bit clearer. Users can search cases that deal exclusively with Fair Use and quickly see how the decision has been rendered (if Fair Use was found or not). You can narrow your search by jurisdiction and, importantly, by format (text, audio, computer, etc).

You can check out the Fair Use Indexes searching capabilities here on their website and read the US Copyright Office’s press release here.

Remember that the use of the index does not constitute legal advice, but does give users a better idea of the recent developments in Fair Use. Thanks to the UW Law Library’s Government Documents librarian, Margaret Booth for alerting us to this new resource!

GPO turns 154 today and celebrates with a new name and logo

 

From the FDLP News:

The U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) marks its 154th anniversary of opening for business today. Since March 4, 1861, GPO has seen many changes as the agency continually adapted to changing technologies. In the ink-on-paper era, this meant moving from hand-set to machine typesetting, from slower to high-speed presses, and from hand to automated bookbinding. While these changes were significant for their time, they pale by comparison with the transformation that accompanied GPO’s adoption of electronic information technologies, which began over 50 years ago with a plan to develop a new system of computer-based typesetting. By the early 1980s this system had completely supplanted machine-based hot metal typesetting. By the early 1990s, the databases generated by GPO’s typesetting system were uploaded to the Internet via the agency’s first Web site, GPO Access, vastly expanding the agency’s information dissemination capabilities. Those functions continue today with GPO’s Federal Digital System on a more complex and comprehensive scale, which last year registered its one billionth document download.

As a result of these sweeping technology changes, GPO is now fundamentally different from what it was as recently as a generation ago. It is smaller, leaner, and equipped with digital production capabilities that are the bedrock of the information systems relied upon daily by Congress, Federal agencies, and the public to ensure open and transparent Government in the digital era. As GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks has pointed out, GPO is not just for printing anymore. Late last year, Congress and the President recognized GPO’s technology transformation by changing the agency’s name to the Government Publishing Office.

GPO’s new name provides an opportunity to introduce a new, modern logo representative of the 21st century. Based on the Lubalin Graph typeface, the G forms an arrow pointing forward, showing the direction the agency is moving. The arrow points to the P, which stands for publishing and conveys the significance of the communication services GPO provides today. The new logo will be phased in throughout the agency.

See the new logo here.

“GPO is on the move as a publishing operation. With publishing as our new middle name, GPO is offering a broad range of products and services to Federal agencies, ranging from conventional print to digital apps, eBooks, and bulk data downloads,” said GPO Director Davita Vance-Cooks. “In our mission to Keep America Informed, we will continue to adapt to the new technologies that the Government and the public have come to expect from us.”

Community Immigration Law Center – A New Clinic in Madison

There is a new Community Immigration Law Center (CILC) in Madison. Although the Center does not represent clients, it does offer the following services:

  • Brief consultations on basic legal immigration issues provided twice a month for three hours on a first come, first serve basis.
  • Case assessment and legal advice provided by our volunteer immigration lawyers.
  • Assistance with immigration forms and fillings.

The Center is open to the public the 2nd and 4th Friday of each month.
Hours: 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
First come, first served. No appointments needed.
Contact information:
Community Immigration Law Center
C/O Christ Presbyterian Church
944 East Gorham Street
Madison, WI 53703
Tel: (608) 257-4845
Fax: (608) 257-4490
Email: jeanrene@tds.net

Dane Co to Redact SSNs from County Records

WKOW reports that Dane County is installing software to redact the social security numbers from county records. They are the only county in the state to do so. Register of Deeds, Kristi Chlebowski indicated that all social security numbers should be redacted by the fall.
For now, however, it seems that anyone can access mortgage documents and other bank records containing SSNs via the Dane Co. Register of Deeds web for a small fee of $5.95. Watch the WKOW report for details.
Source: The Wheeler Report

Short Turn Around for Most Records Requests from Gov. Doyle’s Office

The Appleton Post-Crescent reports that “most people requesting records from Gov. Jim Doyle’s office last year did not have to wait long to get them.”
In their “fifth annual review of public records requests found that about two-thirds of people seeking records got them within two weeks….
The P-C could discern a response time for 65 requests. Of these requests, 43 received requests within two weeks, and 59 requestors, more than 90 percent, received request within about a month.”
Did you know that Wisconsin was the first state to pass an open records law? See Wisconsin Statutes Chapter 10, Section 137 from 1849.