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Like the university that we call home, our fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.  While Cornell’s Fiscal 21 proved to be every bit as trying as we all thought they would be, we are pleased to report that the Legal Information Institute is stronger than ever. Though our small staff continues to work remotely, we made substantial progress on new initiatives while simultaneously meeting the demands of a global audience that has never been larger. 

Impacts

Traffic

Six months ago, the Cornell Chronicle wrote a lovely article about the LII and our website:  https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2021/01/institute-breaks-record-2020-making-laws-easy-access.  The article highlights how events such as the storming of the US Capitol, civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd, and COVID-19 drove LII’s extraordinary website traffic in 2020.  Those events and more translated to record traffic on law.cornell.edu in Fiscal 21. More than 40 million unique visitors came to the website over the last 12 months. They engaged in more than 68 million sessions and viewed more than 168 million pages of content–breaking the records we set in Fiscal 2020.   

From links in blog posts authored by the National Constitution Center, the American Bar Association, FactCheck.org and many others, to more than 15,000 readers who arrived from the website of CalFresh, California’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, law.cornell.edu continued to be a go-to source for unbiased legal information. Educators at every level also continued to refer students to LII this year, via general information resources, library guides, and learning management systems. We were thrilled to be a part of the nationwide shift to online learning during the pandemic, with increased referrals from Canvas, Google Classroom, and K12 domains across the country.

Beyond the United States, LII served more than 6.9 million readers across the world in 242 countries and territories. Although the composition of the top countries by traffic is remarkably stable year over year, the rankings shifted a bit: this year, the Philippines and China more than doubled their traffic, rising to #3 (behind India) and #6 (behind Canada and the UK), respectively. Pakistan rocketed up to snag spot #14, and for the first time, we registered 3 users purporting to originate from North Korea.

Even as events from the news drive particular traffic spikes that can last from a few minutes to a few days, most of our users (representing a supermajority of our traffic) use our website in a professional capacity to do their work. Every year we hear not only from lawyers, librarians, bankers, and accountants, but also from droves of loyal users across the entire spectrum of business, government, and education. Even in a “quiet” month when major law and politics stories are absent from the daily headlines, somewhere between 2 and 3 million people use the service we provide as an alternative to expensive online databases.

I find the Legal Information Institute’s explanations invaluable in my work as a reporter having to cover numerous legal issues. “

Rachel H.

New Collections

  1.  State Regulations 

Our biggest accomplishment during Fiscal ‘21 was, without a doubt, the creation of a new online collection of the regulations of all 50 states. To create the collection, LII teamed with Public.Resource.Org, Fastcase, and Justia, Inc. to form the Code Improvement Commission. We then obtained the raw texts of the regulations from all 50 states, and our team of technologists set about creating and honing the tools needed to process, standardize, enrich, and publish those large and disparate corpora in a user-friendly and accessible format. This collection reflects an initial and ambitious first step to move “down the jurisdictional stack” away from the collections of federal law that have always been LII’s domain.

But simply publishing the regulations is not the end goal of the five-year project on which the Commission has embarked. Before the Commission disbands in 2025, LII plans to add more features to its collection to improve the findability and readability of state regulations, as well as to connect them to both other relevant governance and also information about the activities and objects being regulated. We will also allow bulk access to the formatted data for others to ingest, study, and improve. 

  1. Executive Orders

As website traffic died down after the presidential election and its aftermath and the inauguration approached, news outlets began to cover the anticipated flurry of executive orders. Because the publication process for new executive orders involves a delay of a few days before the formal publication in the Federal Register, we monitored the White House’s website for new orders; formatted, hyperlinked, and retrofitted them for web-accessibility-compliance; and published them when they were announced, making each new executive order far easier to locate, read, and contextualize for our readers.

I am a public health attorney. I love how easy it is to find and use federal statutes on your site and move from Section to Part to Subchapter to Title so that I can understand a section in context. There are many good resources for other laws – but yours is the only one that I use for federal statutes. Thanks!”

Denise C.

Collaborations

LII staff members continued to serve as a resource to the free access to law movement and legal technology projects. We continued to collaborate with a number of groups in government, non-profits, and industry, including the Federal Depository Library Program, AfricanLII, an e-regulations project for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid studies, as well as serving as a formal advisor to the National Science Foundation-funded project FAI: Using AI to Increase Fairness by Improving Access to Justice.  We also maintained representation on the editorial boards of two journals: the Journal of Open Access to Law, and Law in Context, which “publishes socio-legal articles that explore the social, historical, economic, political, and technological aspects of the operation of law”.

Student Work

  1. We’ve expanded our use of law students to explain the law to the public.

LII employed 109 students and recent graduates in Fiscal ’21 to revise and create new content for Wex and the Supreme Court Bulletin Previews. We also took a quantum leap forward in our ability to employ even more in Fiscal ‘22 and beyond.  In April, we added Nichole McCarthy to our staff as our first ever Original Content Collections Manager. In addition to managing our current cohort of student workers, Nichole is tasked with a pair of huge challenges:  

  1. To design and implement a better system of organization within Wex to help readers get to additional primary and secondary resources on our website and beyond that relate to the article they are viewing; and 
  2. To create new kinds of original content, as well as a viable structure for recruiting, training, and managing larger networks of pre-law undergraduates, law students, and volunteer experts from around the country (around the globe?) to populate and maintain those collections.

We are excited for the increased capacity this gives us to recruit more student labor than ever before!

2. Masters of Engineering Students Continue to Imagine Future Possibilities.

Every year, LII hosts students from Cornell’s engineering and information science programs. Two projects stand out from this year: an exploratory data analysis of state regulations and what we’ve been calling “the art project”. Our new state regulations publication is the largest document corpus we’ve ever worked with. Because this is the first time we’ve had access to standardized data at the state level, we have a great deal to discover by applying all of the techniques we’ve honed over the years to discover topics, citation networks, definitions, named entities, and other characteristics of the corpus that help readers find, contextualize, and understand the regulations. 

The “art project” was our most speculative project to date. We’re curious about the potential for using artificial intelligence technologies to generate multimedia resources that could make legal information less intimidating to civics students and other non-law-trained audiences. A talented M.Eng. student with a strong interest in art took up the challenge of applying artistic styles to photographs and animating the resulting images using the latest lip-syncing models. We look forward to extending this work in the future.  

Finances

Though a part of Cornell Law School, LII is entirely self-funded.  We not only “paid the bills” in Fiscal ‘21, we also added to our strategic reserve and completed fundraising for the Tom Bruce Legal Information Innovations Fellowship endowment.  We look forward to bringing the first Fellow to campus in Fiscal ‘22.  Of course, none of this would be possible without the support of friends like you.  We want to be sure to finish off our retelling of this remarkable year on a note of gratitude:  we would be irrelevant without real people using the information we publish to solve real problems, and we would be impossible without your generous financial support each year.  Thank you!

“I am retired and volunteer for a NPO, but I could not live without this valuable resource. Thank you.

Vicki P.

While the Thomson Reuters copyright suit against Ross is just getting started, the Supreme Court recently put an end to a long-running copyright dispute between Google and Oracle. Before the case was argued in the fall, Cornell Law students Thomas Shannon, Andrew Kingsbury, and Tyler Schmitt did an excellent job previewing the case for our Bulletin subscribers here: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/18-956

You can listen to the oral argument and read a brief summary of the decision over at the Oyez Project here: https://www.oyez.org/cases/2020/18-956

And, of course, we have the entire opinion on our site at: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/18-956

Will the Court’s latest pronouncement on fair use have any bearing on Westlaw’s claims against Ross? Only time will tell.

Closed sign

This is not an article about what is sure to be the most annoying part of the upcoming “Friends” reunion. It is, first and foremost, about ROSS AI.  

Back in October, I wrote about my experience using the legal research Chrome extension from ROSS AI. It was meant to be the first in a regular series of features about other Free Law tools available to you out in the world. And we’ll get back to that next time. Meanwhile, something has happened; and you need to hear about it.

ROSS went out of business. That’s the short version.

The longer version is that Thomson Reuters (TR), owners of Westlaw, had sued ROSS earlier in 2020. The complaint alleges, in short, that ROSS had obtained in bulk from a third party copyright-protected Westlaw content (such as headnotes, Key Numbers, and other organizational/editorial content added to the cases by Westlaw editors) and used that material in developing its AI-assisted platform.

Predictably, ROSS immediately issued a press release denying the allegations, stating that any copyright-eligible material from Westlaw it obtained through its third-party partner “would have been useless to ROSS.”       

The litigation proceeded apace. Briefing on a motion to dismiss was completed (but the motion not yet heard) by the time I wrote my review of the Chrome extension. (The court would subsequently deny the motion in an order dated March 29, 2021.)  

In December of 2020, ROSS announced that it would cease all operations by the end of January, 2021 and concentrate solely on fighting the TR lawsuit.  ROSS’s founder wrote, “With our company ensnared by this legal battle, we have been unable to raise another round of funding to fuel our development and marketing efforts.” 

Before we go any further, it’s important to say that I do not know whether or not the allegations in TRs complaint have merit or will be borne out by the evidence. Also, I understand just how common this is, and that many of the lawyers among our subscriber base have seen similar stories of young companies driven to extinction by the direct and indirect costs of defending themselves against allegations of intellectual property infringement or theft brought by very companies they are seeking to usurp. I’m also aware that some of us in the bar have worked for those large and well-resourced companies. And, at the risk of being redundant, I also understand that sometimes these allegations prove to be true and actionable.

In any event, ROSS subsequently filed an amended answer, including nine counterclaims attacking not only Westlaw’s claims of copyright, but also alleging antitrust violations. (Thomson Reuters has moved to dismiss the antitrust counterclaims.) In a concurrently-posted statement on its website, ROSS wrote:  

America is a country based on laws. The law belongs to all of us. It governs us, protects us, and forms the basis of our great democracy. Our highest ideal is justice for all. This depends on the people—all people—having access to the law. But for Westlaw, the public law is nothing but a commodity to be bought and purchased and a fiefdom to be protected at all costs. 

It’s quite a coincidence that the case I was researching when I first wrote about ROSS was the Supreme Court’s recent clarification of copyright law’s Government Edicts Doctrine, Georgia v. Public Resource.Org. Will that opinion have any impact on this case?  It could directly impact what the court ultimately determines to be the validity or the scope of the copyright TR claims.  

Beyond this particular litigation, the Georgia v. PRO case could indirectly impact the for-profit legal publishing industry by changing the perceived incentives for companies like TR to enter into contracts to be the original publishers of statutes, regulations, or case law.  

And Georgia v. PRO is not the Court’s most recent word on copyright. Earlier this month, it decided Google v. Oracle. In that case, the Court articulated what many believe to be an expanded understanding of the doctrine of Fair Use. Will ROSS be able to use that opinion to support the declaratory judgment it seeks that any alleged copying was fair use?  

There is much more to say about the intersection of the Government Edicts Doctrine, Fair Use, and publishing the law–whether for profit or not. As our team and others explore these topics, we’ll be sure to share the best parts with you.

Nichole McCarthy
Glass of lemonade and lemons

At this point last year, we had no idea what was going to happen. No one did.  But we knew our donors had treated us generously (thanks again!), and we were on pace to record a surplus when our fiscal year wrapped up at the end of June. We also knew that the dual threat of economic uncertainty and remote work meant that many law students were seeing their summer job plans shrink dramatically or disappear altogether.  We decided to offer summer employment to any Cornell student who approached us, and to advertise that offer aggressively within the (virtual) halls of Cornell Law School. This would be a classic “win-win” scenario, where more students would find meaningful, law-related summer employment, while we (and you!) would get more new original content than we are usually capable of producing. It seemed like a classic opportunity to, as the old saying goes, take the lemons we’d been handed and make some lemonade.  

We began feverishly planning an ambitious student project to make use of the extra labor. We wanted to refurbish as many of the short definitions in our Wex legal reference as possible.  

It all (somehow) came together, and since this time last year we have seen dozens of students on the Wex Definition Team research and draft more than 1,000 improved Wex definitions.  

As the dust settled on a busy summer and the stream of new and improved Wex entries slowed to a trickle as classes started in September, we were tired and proud. We also had a couple of new problems. First, we’d seen the results that vigorous student employment could yield, and we were hungry for more. Second, all that time we’d just spent in Wex identifying definitions to be improved upon and publishing those improvements left us keenly aware of the untapped potential of that collection.

So did what any small team of professionals would do when faced with such a challenge: we asked for help! We were able to raise sufficient funds to hire our first ever Original Content Collections Manager. Just a few weeks ago, we were able to welcome Nichole McCarthy to our team!

Nichole views access to information as a form of advocacy when it prepares individuals and groups to make informed decisions. She has demonstrated her passion for information services through more than 7 years of human services advocacy experience – serving both non-profit agencies and the State of New York. Trained as a librarian, she has worked in public, academic, and specialized libraries and previously supported the Law Library of Congress as a Metadata Intern. She has also worked as a librarian at a law firm and as a volunteer archivist for  KRIA: The Icelandic Constitution Archives, where she archived over 1,000 webpages. In addition to her M.S. in Library and Information Science, Nichole has a B.A. in Women’s Studies and a M.S. in Criminal Justice Administration.

Nichole’s first task is to train and manage the sizable cohort of students who will make up the Wex Definitions Team this summer.  

Longer term, Nichole is tasked with a pair of huge challenges:  

  1. To design and implement a better system of organization within Wex to help readers get to additional primary and secondary resources on our website and beyond that relate to the article they are viewing; and 
  2. To create new kinds of original content, as well as a viable structure for recruiting, training, and managing larger networks of pre-law undergraduates, law students, and volunteer experts from around the country (around the globe?) to populate and maintain those collections

Nichole’s arrival and mission is just one of the brands of lemonade we are making out of the big bushel of lemons that the pandemic has handed us. We’ll keep you posted as we refine our recipe!  

The LII Helped 38 million people find and understand the law in 2020

While it seems like much longer,  we started off 2020 just a year ago by presenting the prior year as a series of significant numbers.  Without intending to minimize what we all went through since then, here’s 2020 “by the numbers” for LII:

38,856,622 people used our website 66,399,539 times and spent a total of 1,581 years reading 164,336,608 pages of content.  Please read more about that in the Cornell Chronicle article: Institute Breaks Record in 2020, Making Laws Easy to Access

3,751,971 referrals arrived from 49,349 websites, including:

  • 139,396 from educational platforms and institutions,
  • 187,951 from federal, state, and local government,
  • 252,738 from news organizations,
  • 351,293 from Wikipedia, and
  • 1,391,868 referrals from social media.

1,351,432 pages of state regulations content made their way to the public.  With sponsorship from Public.Resource.Org and a raw data feed from Fastcase, LII developed and made available to the public a comprehensive collection of state regulations. We had long hoped to facilitate access to law below the federal level, and the raw data feed let us build a comprehensive collection from the start, so we can see how federal law plays out at the state level. 

$130,000 dollars went into the Tom Bruce Legal Information Innovation Fellowship Fund.  Once it reaches $400,000, that endowed fund will pay for a Fellow to spend the summer in Ithaca each year advancing the state of the art in legal informatics and related fields.

1,041 donors responded to a short donor survey.  Those results will not only help us focus our efforts on the website and improve our communications with you, but also provide valuable insight into how people use and perceive Free Law resources.  

964 Wex definitions were improved by Cornell Law students, including timely updates to articles such as “blanket search warrant,” “electioneering,” and “Citizens United.”

198 new entries in the Women and Justice collection, including summaries of the UK Domestic Violence, Crime, and Victims Act, the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act, the Ghanaian Human Trafficking Act, and the Tunesian Law on Eliminating Violence against Women.

7 apps in the Cornell Tech Law App Showcase for which LII language and data science specialist, Dr. Sylvia Kwakye, served on the judging panel. In addition to immigration topics (asylum, Green Cards, visas, citizenship, and immigration relief), app topics also included divorce case assessment and assistance dog rights. 

4 presentations at this year’s virtual Law Via the Internet Conference. Craig Newton spoke on Georgia v. Public.Resource. Org; Sara Frug presented on a panel on free access to scholarship and on another panel on the potential for free access to law publishers to help downbias legal data sets that support artificial intelligence applications; Neli Karabelova presented on a panel discussing how to communicate user impacts. 

122 student employees, many of whom were displaced from other summer jobs by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, 8 full-time staff members ran the LII:

  • 5 technologists
  • 1 office manager
  • 1 communications specialist
  • 1 lawyer

In the midst of all the chaos this year, the United States Supreme Court did something remarkable.  We’ve already told you about Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org and its impact on opening up state-law materials; but, now is the perfect time to look a little more closely at what the Court said and why it was so good to hear.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts explained that “no one can own the law. ‘Every citizen is presumed to know the law,’ and ‘it needs no argument to show … that all should have free access’ to its contents.”  We’ve been beating that drum since 1992, and it’s wonderful to hear it echo at the Supreme Court.  We wouldn’t have arrived here without your generous support.

Donate now

But it’s something else the Chief Justice wrote that I want to focus on.  He invited readers to “imagine a Georgia citizen interested in learning his legal rights and duties.”   He notes that readers of the “economy-class version of the Georgia code available online” would come across laws that have been invalidated by courts.  “Meanwhile,” he noted, “first class readers with access to the annotations will be assured that these laws are, in crucial respects, unenforceable relics that the legislature has not bothered to narrow or repeal.”  

By posing that scenario, the Chief Justice was clear that the public deserves free access to complete and correct resources that fully enumerate and explain citizens’ rights and obligations.  And he assumes that citizens will go online to access them.  This is a HUGE shift from where we started out, when it seemed not just fashionable but downright “responsible” for judges, lawyers and academics to question the utility and reliability of free online legal resources available to the general public.  Only lawyers needed the law, the argument went, and trusting its dissemination exclusively to a duopoly of deep-pocketed publishers to keep it out of the hands of everyone else seemed more like a solution than a problem in that worldview.  

But even in those early days, we knew that all of you are “first class readers” who use the law to do your work, solve your problems, participate in society, and generally live your lives.  It has always been our top priority to bring you accurate, updated, and unbiased primary and secondary sources of legal information to help you do all that.  And, it turns out, the Supreme Court agrees that’s a very good idea.  

Donate now

Thank you for supporting us,

Craig Newton
Co-Director

Legal Information Institute

Dear friend,

The magic is working. Day in, day out, people continue to flock to the LII website for unfiltered primary sources on current events, for context on commonly-encountered legal situations, for school and for work. Most importantly, though, folks continue to use LII in ways that reach countless others. 

“I use this resource all the time as a journalist. Thank you!”

Despite difficult circumstances all around, those who are able to pitch in have continued to support us. And for today, Giving Tuesday, a generous group of donors has pledged to match every gift we receive. Twice.

Triple your impact today only

Because LII is an information service, for better or worse, we see a great deal of uncertainty and need behind our traffic. We are grateful that we continue to be able to serve the thousands of schools and nonprofits that refer traffic to us, and grateful that your (tripled!) gift will, in turn, help so many worthy causes leverage their own resources.

“Thank you so much for your continued work on this mission. I work for an under resourced agency and free access to your information truly makes a difference.”

“I am empowered by your website as I am in a Legal Nurse Consultant program and I use this website to help me better understand terms and definitions. Thank you.”

“I teach law. Most of my students go into solo or small firm practice. Having this resource is a life-saver for many of them because they cannot afford the various paid research services. But they still have clients who deserve justice.”

Arthur C. Clarke famously observed that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And because the application of ever-emerging technologies is central to fulfilling our mission, it’s easy to get caught up in the technology. But the real magic is in what the technology lets us do for real people, whether directly, or by empowering people and organizations to help others. Thank you for helping us work this magic.

Triple your impact today

Thank you,

Sara Frug
Co-Director
Legal Information Institute

I Voted sticker

On Thursday August 20, 2020 President Trump said he would send law enforcement officials to polling locations for the Nov. 3, 2020 general election.  But our traffic shows that 18 U.S.C. § 594, the federal statute outlawing voter intimidation, was already on people’s minds.  Beginning on August 13, we saw a brief increase in interest there.  A typical day would bring around 50 viewers to that section of the US Code.  On August 13, that number jumped to 338. While 10 visitors arrived there that day from a Washington Post article, as usual the vast majority (about three-quarters) came straight from search engines, 

Traffic there peaked on August 21—the day after President Trump’s statement—with 805 viewers reading 18 U.S.C. § 594.  By August 25, viewership was back in the double digits.  The graph from Google Analytics looks like this.

Google analytics traffic graph

We noted the spike in the #Trending channel of our internal Slack, and we made a note to  consider it for this newsletter article.  But what looked like a spike turned out to be just a bump in comparison of what was to come.

Saturday, September 19th marked the start of a triple spike, where the periods in between the peaks matched the traffic from what we had considered a spike back in August.  That day, 1898 people read 18 U.S.C. § 594.  The number went up to 2,685 the next day before beginning to drop back down to 1,415 on Monday–still higher than the peak of the August spike.

Just as traffic returned to a level that matched a “typical” day during the August spike (around 350 visits to the page), a second, even larger spike began.  That spike began on September 30, the day after the first presidential debate.  Over 4,000 people came to the page, probably because of President Trump’s heavily-reported “stand back and stand by” remark during the debate the night before.  While traffic dropped back down from that peak fairly quickly, it  remained at the same levels that constituted a “spike” when we observed it in August.  For example, Thursday October 8 was a relatively “quiet” day for the page in October, with only 446 visits.  But 446 would have been the second-highest daily total in August.   

We saw a third spike to the page corresponding with the confirmation hearings for Judge Amy Coney Barrett.  The hearings began on Monday, October 12th.  The next day, more than 2,000 people read 18 U.S.C. § 594.  That spike lasted all week. Over the weekend of October 18 & 19, more than 1,200 people visited the page, split roughly equally between Saturday and Sunday.  

Here is what all of that looks like, from the before the August bump through Sunday, October 18th:

As you can see from the graph, traffic to 18 U.S.C. § 594 last weekend almost matched what we thought was a spike back in August.  We don’t think we are done seeing interest in this page over the coming weeks. 

Student working on notes in library

Another new feature we’re trying in our Newsletter is a Student Spotlight, where we showcase the work of the many students in law, computer science, and information science who work with us each year.   For this first installment, we’re focusing on probably our best-known work with students, the Supreme Court Bulletin Previews.

Many of our readers (approaching 20,000) subscribe to the Previews, where teams of Cornell Law Students write comprehensive, plain language, viewpoint neutral summaries of the legal and policy arguments the Court will consider for each case it hears.  In case you don’t subscribe, or in case you missed this particular Preview, we wanted to highlight the case of Carney v. Adams, which was the very first case the Court heard at the start of its current term.  

As our Preview notes, the case presented a First Amendment issue impacting judges and political parties in the state of Delaware.  As always, our students did an excellent job untangling and explaining a complex case.

If you haven’t already, please check it out.

And if you don’t already, please consider subscribing to this completely free service we offer.

Notebook and laptop

Dear Reader:
Here’s a new feature in our newsletter where I share my experiences solving actual legal research questions using only online Free Law tools.   We hope this will give you some new insight into what other important and impressive free legal research tools are out there.  It might also perhaps even spark an idea or two about how to use them.  
Best,
Craig
Craig Newton
Co-Director

As you may have read in our Quarterly Report, I recently gave a presentation about the Supreme Court’s 2020 Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org decision.  In that case, the court held that Georgia could not claim copyright for commercially-produced annotations created under the legislature’s supervision and merged with the laws themselves to form the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.  

The central issue in the case was interpreting the Government Edicts Doctrine, a judicially created copyright exception from the 19th century.  Quoting Nash v. Lathrop, a case decided by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1886, Chief Justice Roberts explained “The animating principle behind this rule is that no one can own the law.  ‘Every citizen is presumed to know the law,’ and ‘it needs no argument to show . . . that all should have free access’ to its contents.”  

I was struck by the ages of all the case law that the court relied upon as it explained how “no one can own the law” that “we are all presumed to know and understand.”  As I prepared my talk, I wondered if there were more recent relevant cases the court had bypassed in its opinion  (and if so, why).  I knew from reading the decision below from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeal (who also ruled in favor of PRO) that there were more recent cases out there denying copyright to similar materials; but, those cases relied not on the logic that citizens must be able to access the law they are presumed to know and instead were based on the notion that citizens in a democracy are the original authors of those laws.  

I wondered why the Supreme Court had found a completely different justification for upholding the 11th Circuit, and I decided to look for other cases that shared the same sentiment expressed in Massachusetts in 1886 (if not exactly those same words) that because every citizen is presumed to know the law, all should have free access to its contents.  

This seemed like a good opportunity to kick the tires on the ROSS Chrome extension, which I had learned about a few months before when the company asked us if they could use examples from our website in their video in the Chrome web store (and clicking on that link will show you that video).  

ROSS’s claims for its Chrome extension are ambitious:  add their extension to Chrome, highlight any text on any website, right click the text, select “Find similar language” from the resulting menu, and ROSS will generate a free list of cases that incorporate the same idea as the text you selected.  And ROSS allows users of the Chrome extension to click into the returned case results for free. 

Okay.  Neat.  Would it work?

Step One:  having downloaded the extension, all I needed to begin was an online version of the Georgia v. PRO opinion.  We have that!  

Step Two:  I found the language I was looking for: “The animating principle behind this rule is that no one can own the law.  ‘Every citizen is presumed to know the law,’ and ‘it needs no argument to show . . . that all should have free access’ to its contents.”  I selected that passage, right-clicked, and selected “Find Similar Language” from the resulting menu.  A new web page from ROSS opened up. 

Step Three:  The very first result was more than I bargained for!  ROSS showed me a new case from the Southern District of New York, decided just one month after Georgia v. PRO.  In International Code Council Inc. v. UpCodes Inc., Judge Marrero of the Southern District of New York denied summary judgment to both parties in a case where the defendant had re-published building codes created by a private standards organization but subsequently incorporated into the official building codes of various jurisdictions.  While ROSS let me read that order for free, having found it through their extension, you can find a Free Law copy here.  Judge Marrero cited the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in his analysis of both whether the private building codes had entered the public domain and if their use by the re-publisher was covered by the copyright doctrine of fair use.  

Though cases like this are one of the next battlegrounds for the Free Law community, I had not been aware of this one.  Score one for ROSS!  

A side note:  I understand that I could have discovered the ICC v. UpCodes case just as easily using a commercial citator like those available through Westlaw or LexisNexis.  The key word there, of course, being “commercial” while the ROSS Chrome extension is completely free.  I would even argue that, FREE NOTWITHSTANDING, the ROSS experience was more useful to me because (1) it only showed me cases that were linked to the Georgia v. PRO in the way that mattered to me (instead of returning a list of everything that cited it and leaving me to find the relevant ones) and (2) one search simultaneously showed me both newer and older cases that expressed a similar sentiment (while a citator, of course, only returns cases that cite and therefore must post-date, the original case in question).  Remember, I started this exercise looking for older cases that Chief Justice Roberts could have cited but did not.

Step Four:  Speaking of older cases SCOTUS did not cite, ROSS also returned a 1980 building codes case called Building Officials & Code Adm. Intern. Inc. v. Code Technology Inc.  You can find a FreeLaw copy of that decision here.  In that case, the First Circuit Court of Appeal vacated at trial court’s injunction that prevented a defendant from re-publishing the Massachusetts building codes, which was largely based on a model code created and owned by the plaintiff.  This was exactly the sort of case that Chief Justice Roberts could have cited but didn’t.  (Why is a question for another day, especially where the 11th Circuit opinion cites and discusses it at some length.)  Score (another) one for ROSS!

Conclusion

I was able to complete my research using entirely Free Law tools–most notably this time the ROSS Chrome extension.  Of course, ROSS would like users of its free Chrome Extension to become so enamored with the results that they subscribe to ROSS’s entire suite of AI-powered legal research tools.  This “Freemium” model, where a for-profit company offers a free product or a free, basic version of its product to attract and entice users who it hopes to eventually convert into paying customers, is neither new nor nefarious.  In the case of ROSS, it’s a great way to begin legal research for a topic that catches your eye from an online news story, blog post, or even a judicial opinion.   

Post-Script

Just for fun, I subsequently used the ROSS Chrome extension to find cases that supported a post on a lawyer’s website without benefit of citation.  Turns out, that’s also a great use for this tool, since it pointed me to a Federal Circuit case that confirmed exactly what he said.  Maybe we’ll do “lawyer blogs” as the next installment in this series!