An Update on the Free Law Project and RECAP
A program intended to help make law more accessible is now shuttering web sites.

February 5, 2018


On Friday, the court document web site shut down. According to the notice now posted on the site, its demise is a direct result of changes by the Free Law Project concerning its handling of RECAP documents from PACER for bulk users (other web sites). In other words, the Free Law Project quietly implemented an unwritten policy of charging money for access to the body of free law it has been trusted to maintain.

Another legal startup, DocketAlarm, sold itself to Fastcase only a few weeks ago on January 10, 2018, three months after this policy went into place. DocketAlarm was another RECAP bulk data user whose access was cut off (unless its owner agreed to pay the Free Law Project ongoing fees of an unspecified amount, which seems doubtful given the sale).

Previously, I wrote on behalf of PlainSite and its parent organizations, Think Computer Corporation and Think Computer Foundation, about concerns over the Free Law Project's new direction with the RECAP program. It would now appear that these concerns have been validated, as was apparently RECAP's third-largest user. PlainSite is the second-largest, after CourtListener, which is run by the Free Law Project itself.

In addition, despite the Free Law Project's promise that the Internet Archive would be updated with the latest RECAP data on a quarterly basis, PlainSite has not been able to use RECAP data since October. Plans to implement the quarterly bulk update thus far have not resulted in any concrete action—only a discussion that has drifted into ways to steer Internet Archive users away from their intended destination and back to CourtListener.

This kind of anti-competitive behavior would be questionable were it attributable to a for-profit corporation, but it is completely inexcusable coming from a nominal non-profit organization. RECAP should be inspiring new sites, not the underlying reason behind the closure of existing ones. The Free Law Project must either restore RECAP's Internet Archive functionality, or relinquish its role in maintaining RECAP and convert to a for-profit corporation that focuses on CourtListener as a commercial product.

RECAP was initially created because the court system was not behaving as a responsible steward of public domain materials. Sadly, the Free Law Project has fallen into the same trap as the courts, even while involved in litigation about the issue of PACER fees.

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