National Inventory of Legal Materials – Bits and Pieces

On Tuesday, June 15th, there will be a event hosted by the Center for American Progress.   

For the event, I plan to share some of our preliminary findings.  Here are a few of the talking points:

The National Inventory of Legal Materials is an attempt to describe, detail and catalog where one can find the legal materials of our Federal, State and local systems.

At the first workshop held at Stanford, we were fortunate to have members of the Northern California Association of Law Librarians (NOCALL)  in attendance.  And, as a group we decided to develop a California prototype of the inventory.     

Since that time, we developed spreadsheets and forms.  And, we now have over 20 volunteers working on the California inventory which includes nearly 700 records.  Some of the information that we have gathered includes copyright assertions, disclaimers, official status and price information.  

And, as our project grew, so did the larger National Inventory.

Now there are 195 volunteers across the country working on federal and state level inventory projects, as it is now a full-fledged activity of the American Association of Law Libraries.  This project marries very nicely with AALL’s continued leadership and advocacy on  topics ranging from permanent public access to authentication to official status of online legal materials.   Much of this work draws and builds upon the fine work of the AALL Electronic Legal Information Access and Citation Committee.

[Also, our Advanced Legal Research class did a tremendous amount of research on National Inventory related questions this past quarter, and we are very grateful for their interest and discoveries.]

Here are a few of the preliminary findings:

At least eight  states assert copyright over their statutory codes online.

Preliminary research shows that  perhaps 42% of the states (or 21 states) assert copyright over their administrative codes online.

Apparently, only one state provides access to case law for a fee.

Almost every state’s online  legal resources include disclaimers, either to the status or reliability of the content.  (And: nearly none of these states had the same disclaimers in print equivalents of these resources.)

Given that the California inventory is nearly completed here are a few examples from California :

Of the nearly 540 municipalities and counties in California, most have online codes and ordinances; however, approximately 40% of these legal materials state that they are not “official” and have a strong Web disclaimer about the use of the online version.

Approximately 50%  of these codes have copyright assertions.

When we tried to determine if these materials were available in bulk access, we contacted a few of these municipalities.  And, our small sampling of these online materials found that none provided bulk access.

A typical disclaimer on these municipal codes might read:

“This code of ordinances may not reflect the most current legislation adopted by the municipality.  These documents are provided for informational purposes only.  These documents should not be relied upon as the definitive authority for local legislation.  Formatting and pagination varies from the official copy.  The official printed copy should be consulted prior to any action being taken”

To purchase these codes in print, the price starts at approximately 100 dollars (and going up beyond that). 

At the state level, the California administrative code is provided for free online by West but there is a copyright assertion and the cost for a subscription to the official print version is approximately $3500 per year.

Title 24, the building code is published separately and not part of the California Code of Regulations website.  The FAQs on this site direct you to visit the California Building Standards Commission that links you out to the International Code Council’s copyrighted site where you can view only one section at a time of the building code.

[Although we have not yet done so, it might be interesting  to check to see how many standards incorporated by reference are available freely on the California regulations site.]

As to the Attorney General opinions in California: you can find these in official form in print for approximately $400. 

If you visit the free version online, there is this disclaimer:  “Disclaimer of Duty to Continue Provision of the Data:  Due to the Dynamic nature of the internet, resources that are free and publicly available one day may require a fee or restrict access the next.”  

One of the executive agencies in California had full-text of administrative decisions on their site; however, without any pagination – which would be required if you were to cite to it in CA courts.

As to the courts, to gain access to the full archive of California Supreme Court cases you must click “agree” to a license preventing you from using the data for “nonprofit or public use.”

Further, the court site states:  “it is not intended to function as an alternative to commercial computer-based services and products for comprehensive legal research.”

The  Court opinion archive is provided by Lexis under contract with the State of California.

There is a free, archive of recent slip opinions on the California Court site, without a license click agreement; however, these are filed ‘as-is’ with edited/corrected versions only appearing on the other website. The slip opinion archive states: “This archive is not provided for purposes of legal research.”

Outside of California, here are a few highlights from other states:

Apparently, Delaware and Utah are the only states authenticating their online administrative code with digital signatures or MD5 hash.

It appears that only 7 states have clearly made their online administrative code of regulations official. 

Similar to California Courts, New Jersey’s Administrative Code has a license agreement you need to click through to view, preventing you from using the data for “nonprofit or public use.”

Vermont does not have an Administrative Code of Regulations online.

If you want to secure bulk access to the Arizona code of regulations, it will cost you upwards of $15,000.   Although, there is no charge for postage and handling.

If you want to get bulk access in Indiana, it might take a bit of time as each request is looked at on a case-by-case basis. 

Most states simply do not provide information on gaining bulk access to their legal materials.

There are a number of inconsistent examples.

Although Arkansas’s code of regulations is not fully available online and their Rules register is only official in print form,  Arkansas’ online court opinions are official, authenticated, and utilize medium neutral citation formats. 

If you want to look at Alabama appellate and supreme court opinions on the web, you will need to pay a fee – these are not freely available on the courts’ site.

Connecticut copyrights its appellate court opinions.

In Idaho all cited opinions are posted on the court’s website the day of release; however, once in West’s Pacific/Idaho reporter, the opinions are removed from their website.  And, Idaho has created a digital repository to provide for permanent public access to state agency materials.

If you go to the Vermont Legislature’s web pages, they provide the text of the Vermont statutes.  However, it states: “The Vermont Statutes Online is an unofficial copy. . . provided as a convenience. It has not been edited for publication. The ‘official’ version . . . is online at LexisNexis Publishing.”  However, by statute, the Legislative Council of the Vermont General Assembly is required to “maintain official computerized databases of the Vermont Statutes Annotated” and post them on the Web “with a seal of authenticity.”  

In Ohio, there are digital signatures on recent Supreme Court opinions showing authenticity; however, only the printed decisions are deemed official.  It also appears that both the Ohio Revised Code and Administrative Code are not official and bear a copyright assertion.

Oklahoma has been ahead of the curve on online legal information, and for some time has made freely available all Supreme Court opinions since 1890 and criminal appeals cases since 1908  on the court website.

Each of Oklahoma’s county and district courts have their records available online though one of two Web sites. 

However, the Oklahoma Supreme Court recently issued a directive that “Public access to electronic case information is available on a case-by-case basis….. bulk distribution of electronic case information is not allowed.”

 And there is more, much more.  But enough for now.  I welcome your input and suggestions and corrections as this is a fluid and evolving project.

This entry was posted in Access to information, and tagged , by Erika Wayne. Bookmark the permalink.

About Erika Wayne

Erika V. Wayne is deputy library director and lecturer in law at Stanford Law School. Along with George Wilson, Kate Wilko and Paul Lomio, Erika Wayne has co-taught Advanced Legal Research for 3 years. Erika's interest in Open Access dates back to the 1996 when she helped in the development of the Securities Class Action Clearinghouse -- the first court designated internet site for public posting of securities litigation filings. And, she hates to pay for *anything* that should be free. She has a law degree from Penn and a library degree from Illinois.

One thought on “National Inventory of Legal Materials – Bits and Pieces

  1. Pingback: Work Has Begun on the National Inventory of Legal Materials, Related to « Legal Informatics Blog

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