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A little over two years ago, I posted a piece titled “Big World”  here.  The occasion was the inauguration of our now-very-successful VoxPopuLII guest-blog, whose theme might be summed up as “good ideas about legal informatics from all over”.  You could say the same thing about the Law via the Internet 2012 conference that we’re hosting in October.  The theme is “good ideas about putting law on the Internet, from all over the world”.  This post says a little bit about why; the main points are six:

  • The small group that led the trend toward open access to legal information is now a vanishingly small part of the community that is providing open access to law via the Internet.  That community has members who are situated in government, in non-profit organizations, in for-profit organizations that offer legal information freely as a kind of service to their audience, and in every other kind of institutional setting you can imagine.
  • Once upon a time, “legal information” meant “judicial opinions”.  Now we are faced with the much more difficult task of making statutes, regulations, and other materials available in a timely way.
  • Technology has not stood still. Linked Data and other Semantic Web techniques offer substantial opportunities and even greater challenges.  Developments in digital librarianship in other fields are substantial and useful, but largely unused within the legal-information world. 
  • The community of people with an interest in legal information as a socio-technical phenomenon is larger than ever.  It takes in librarians, information scientists, businesspeople, government officials, policymakers and policy advocates, social and political scientists, and many, many others.
  • The sustainability challenges that face open access are substantial. (“Sustainability” is a polite, non-profit phrase that means “business”, and, increasingly, “how to buy groceries when your customers don’t pay for your service”). It is, let’s face it, hard to develop revenue streams when you give away your product.  Open-access providers outside of government, and sometimes inside it, are developing innovative models to pay for open access on behalf of those who actually make use of their services.
  • The national contexts in which all of these challenges are posed and met are hugely different — in history, in legal context, and in priorities.

There is much that we can learn from each other.  LVI2012 is meant to be an opportunity for that.  While we have Clay Shirky, Richard Susskind, and an impressive, global crew of experts giving talks and chairing and headlining tracks, the real expertise will be among the attendees.  We’ve paid attention to that in the way we’ve structured the schedule.  This won’t just be a parade of people reading papers.  There is lots of time for conversation, and we put a premium on exchange.

Open access to law via the Internet started here at Cornell in 1992 with an offering of Title 17 of the US Code. We used a now-forgotten protocol called Gopher.  Just yesterday, we put up .mobi and .epub versions of Title 17 in the Kindle and Nook stores, which tells you something about how far both the technology and the consumer have come in the meantime.  But the real story of change over two decades is a story about an explosively growing community that provides people with information about the law that governs them, without fees. It’s about what that community knows and how it knows it and how what it knows makes things better for people.  It’s about that community getting to know itself and what it can do and talking to itself about what it should do and how.

That’s what we’re doing in October.  We hope you’ll join us.

PS:  Registration fees go up at the end of the week.  Register now.

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