Category Archives: Legal Publication

Uelma and Unintended Consequences

Uelma should be enacted by the states. But while its concept of verifiable authenticity is useful, compliance with that prong of the law should not lead to excessive reliance on PDF files to share legal resources in only very limited, maximally “print-like,” and insufficiently machine-readable and bulk-processable formats. Open legal resources should also allow commercial, non-profit, community, and library entities to consume relatively “raw” government resources and add the value that makes them efficient and effective tools for an informed public.

Uelma is the Uniform Electronic Legal Materials Act. Promulgated by the Uniform Law Commission, UELMA covers online state legal materials that are deemed “official” (while requiring that covered legal publications produced only electronically be considered official) and requires that they be produced in a way that is capable of being authenticated, that is preserved, and that is made permanently available to the public.

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Why is so much law in PDF files?

In January, I came across Margaret Hagan’s “short manifesto,” Law’s PDF Problem, on the blog of her Open Law Lab project. She argues that too many public-facing legal resources — her examples include several explanatory and instructional charts or tools for the lay public — are locked away within PDF files, often as small parts of much longer PDFs. She argues that the lack of responsiveness of PDF files to different device sizes and screen formats, along with other obstacles to easy end-user interaction with small parts of larger PDFs, are a usability obstacle to general public access to law. As it happens, I’ve also been thinking a lot about legal publishing and the PDF, from a somewhat different angle.
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Print vs. Online: What (really) is the Difference?

Discussion, whether in terms of collection building or of research instruction, of print “versus” online resources is outdated and fruitless if that discussion doesn’t seek to clarify and resolve the relative existing and potential qualities of each format in terms of permanence, stability, and “structured” vs. “random” accessibility.

The classic visual impression of a library is an image of books and periodical volumes printed in ink on paper, bound together, and arranged on ranks of shelving. Depending, perhaps, on attitude of the one crafting that image, these imagined shelves might well be either an image of picturesque rows of beautifully bound classics or a vision of of dusty, dark, and utterly impenetrable frustration. But of course all libraries, and particularly academic research libraries, are also deeply engaged with non-tangible resources. Not “books,” but instead the mass of content that we variously refer to as “digital,” “electronic,” or “online” resources. Stuff that is provided to end users, usually via the Internet, out of networked computerized storage.
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On getting online state codes (mostly) right

This post is a slight update of one that originally appeared on

I recently had occasion to confirm a citation to the codified statutes of Wisconsin. Wisconsin happens to be one of the minority of states that produces both a directly state-published statutory Code and a commercially published (West, in this case) annotated code.

But the quality of the online availability of the “official” code, the Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations is worthy of special praise. Continue reading

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New Law Review format on display at Circ. Desk

The Case Western Reserve Law Review has put a lot of really solid work into the typesetting and page layout of their journal. Besides some real benefits for their operation in the pre-production process, this reformatting makes the Law Review uniquely well-suited to viewing on tablet and portable e-reading devices.

Articles are still distributed as a PDF document, rather than in a “reflowable” e-reader format, to retain the standard pagination and footnoting conventions required for citation. But the scale and dimensions of the PDF pages and the text block within them will now be very comfortable to read on major mobile devices without requiring awkward zooming and panning of the screen. A full-issue PDF, including all front-matter (masthead, table-of-contents, etc.) is now provided. Each article PDF now includes a full cover page the same as the one that would be included in the author’s reprint of that article.
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Libraries, lending, and the “durability” of ebooks…

This post first appeared in March 2011 on Just in Case, the (then) blog of the Judge Ben C. Green Law Library. Just in Case blog content was subsequently migrated to the integrated law library website.
“Lending” libraries are fundamentally ill-equipped to cope with digital materials, including “ebooks.” These must be freely copy-able, “tethered” within networks, or protected by strong DRM. None of the options is compatible with the traditional business model of lending libraries.

The New York Times reports on HarperCollins’ efforts to limit the number of “loans” of eBooks it provides to libraries. Cory Doctorow has a critical op-ed in the website of the Guardian.

We’ve mentioned before that eBooks pose some major and unresolved business-model challenges for libraries. Because a digital file, unlike a bound book on paper, can “natively” be copied with near perfection and nearly zero cost, both publishers and libraries are in a quandary. A lending model makes a sort of natural sense for printed books — they can, after all, only be in one place at a time. And if a library needs more copies to serve its user base it will simply buy additional copies. American copyright law has also evolved to explicitly make room, through limitations on the “distribution right,” for library (and personal) lending and re-sale. (Lending rights are handled differently in European countries, but that’s another story…)
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Are electronic casebooks in our future?

In addition to the usual low level of “back to school” press attention to the cost of college and graduate school textbooks, this year textbook pricing and textbook business models have gotten additional attention for two reasons.

First, a federal act passed in 2008, the Higher Education Opportunity Act, included provisions requiring educational institutions to better describe the costs of textbooks and instructional materials, and to require the “unbundling” of textbooks from supplements and study guides. Read the rest on

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Paradigms upon paradigms

Libraries (or at least the law libraries I know best) have only slowly and gradually come to see ourselves as in the business of providing gateways to online resources as much as we are describers, catalogers, and archivers of printed resources. And, even once we saw ourselves in that role, actually putting the transition into work in our institutional operations has been very, very, slow. While online resources licensed and “subscribed” for remote access across our campuses (silently) account for the large bulk of our served communities’ use of our libraries, most libraries still devote most of their resources on the ground — budgets, staff time, space — on print. And I daresay many, if not most, law students and faculty still regard the library as “mostly” a provider of printed books and journals.

But we’re rapidly approaching another shift that effects the library’s very role as an aggregator of information consumption. While it has long seemed possible for vendors of online information to seek to reach directly to the end consumer, rather than to library intermediaries, there were obstacles.

Libraries have always existed to pool the resources of a community to better leverage the purchase of information access. The basic logic of our role has been that if each member of the community served by the library had to individually purchase, say, every book they were to read (including every book or journal volume necessary to complete a scholarly research project) not only would the costs be prohibitive but, since many of us would use the same materials as one or more of our peers, there would be a lot of waste and duplication. Meanwhile, publishers of conventional information containers have always lacked any reasonable way to “rent” access to what they publish.

Characteristics of the technology of printed books, including high reproduction costs, as well as cultural and legal traditions that include the “first sale” restriction on distribution rights, have always meant that a book sold once can and will be shared. Publishers have never particularly liked first-sale, and never particularly liked libraries, but (at least for the specialized press) never had many other options. This combination of consumer constraints and producer constraints has always meant that, absent combination on the consumption end through libraries, a wide range of books could not be sold. Libraries, in effect, have been the solution to a market failure.

So, there is a floor price below which books (by which I mean not specifically monographs, but printed containers for information) can’t be economically sold and a ceiling on the value to any individual scholar (or legal practitioner!) in having a copy of any individual book needed for consultation, reference, or citation. Books being costly to copy, that floor has always tended to (far) exceed that value-per-use ceiling and even to exceed the combined value of all of the anticipated uses of (most) individual users. The obvious solution is to pool users to share books — perhaps through some kind of pay-per-use mechanism. But the cost to copy books and their fixation in a specific location has meant that publishers couldn’t normally be the one to parcel our uses (as through some kind of rental model). So… so we have libraries.

But our naturally monopoly on content aggregation and point-of-need redistribution is coming to an end. What services do we provide to continue to add value?

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PACER:RECAP — Plug-in to assist with court dockets and filings

Wednesday is usually our day for profiling a subscription resource. Today, instead, we’ll tread the line between “freesearch” and a subscription profile, and address both a fee-based resource and a tool designed to leverage much of its content into the realm of the free.

PACER is the system used by the federal courts to allow access to case and docket information. While run by the courts themselves, PACER is not free (and in fact has a rather cumbersome paywall mechanism). RECAP is a project of Princeton researchers, and aims to augment PACER in ways that should make the use of federal dockets and filings cheaper for the researcher while also putting pressure upon a business model for PACER that the RECAPpers view as excessively closed and proprietary and arguably in violation of the E-Government Act.
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