Paying for public government documents when you are the government is not cheap.
The Department of Justice pays Pacer (the document system run by The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts) — $4 million a year for federal court documents.
The amount was discovered through a FOIA request made by Carl Malamud, an advocate for an open source repository for U.S. legal materials, according to Wired’s Threat Level blog.
The post has full analysis of how much everyone pays for the documents, including how the federal courts pay WestLaw to get their own documents back — the whole thing is worth a read.
Few people that are not lawyers or journalists realise that federal court cases are not automatically available on the web. And one would be hard pressed to find someone who finds the Pacer system or website anything less than completely cumbersome.
And while federal district and appeals court opinions often make their way online if they are newsworthy, the briefing documents usually don’t.
It would no doubt be a massive undertaking, an an expensive one, for the government to put all documents up in real time. Of course, when lawyers or the court upload something to the site, it could just be immediately made live, like the millions of other sites out there, so maybe it would not be that hard after all.
But it would result in a loss of money for the U.S. court system — Pacer raked in almost $50 million last year, Threat Level said.
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