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by Robert J. Ambrogi

On the 25th anniversary of the Legal Information Institute, I’m wondering how I talk about its significance without sounding like an old fogey. You know what I mean – those statements from your elders that always start, “Why, when I was younger …”

But to understand how far ahead of its time the LII was, you need to understand something about the world of legal information as it existed in 1992, the year it launched.

First of all, the Internet was still in its infancy, relative to what we know it as today. It was still a limited, text-only medium used primarily by academics and scientists, navigable only through archaic protocols with names such as Gopher, Archie, Jughead and Veronica (I’m not making those up), using esoteric and confusing commands.  

The first functioning hyperlinked version of the Internet – what we came to call the World Wide Web – had been developed just the year before, by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN in Switzerland. The web only began to gain momentum in 1993 – a year after the LII’s founding – with the development of the first two browsers that allowed graphical elements on web pages. One, Mosaic, later became Netscape Navigator, and the other, Cello, was the first browser designed to work with Microsoft Windows 3.1, which first went on the market the year before.

Remarkably, the Cello browser was created at the LII by cofounder Thomas R. Bruce so that the LII could begin to implement its vision of publishing hyperlinked legal materials on the Internet. How’s that for ahead of its time? No one had yet created a graphical browser that worked with Windows, so the LII built the first one.

As for the availability of legal information on the Internet in 1992 – fuggedaboutit, there wasn’t any. Neither Westlaw nor Lexis-Nexis were accessible through the Internet; access required either a proprietary dial-up terminal connecting over painfully slow phone lines or a visit to the library for hard-copy volumes. There was virtually no online access to court opinions or statutes or legal materials of any kind. Few legal professionals had even heard of the Internet.

In fact, the LII was the first legal site on the Internet. Think about that – about the proliferation and ubiquity of law-related websites today – and consider how prescient and trailblazing were Bruce and cofounder Peter W. Martin when they started the LII that quarter-century ago.

In short order, they developed and set in motion a model of free legal publishing that carried us to where we are today. They were the first to begin regularly publishing Supreme Court opinions on the Internet – at least a decade before the Supreme Court even had a website of its own. They published the first online edition of the U.S. Code in 1994. They created the first “crowdsourced” legal encyclopedia, Wex.

Blazing the Internet Trail

I came to the Internet party a bit later. In 1995, I began syndicating a column for lawyers about the Internet. In my third column, in May 1995, I surveyed the availability of court decisions on the Internet. Apart from the Supreme Court decisions then available through the LII’s website and some academic FTP sites, the only other decisions that could be found for free on the Web were those of two federal circuits, the 3rd and 11th (and only a year’s worth); the New York Court of Appeals; and the Alaska Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. North Carolina opinions were online via an older Gopher site.

In short, even three years after the LII’s launch, the Internet was still far from a viable medium for legal research. Here is how I described the situation in a December 1995 column:

When it comes to legal research, the Internet remains a promise waiting to be fulfilled. The promise is of virtually no-cost, electronic access to vast libraries of information, of an easily affordable alternative to Westlaw and Lexis that will put solo and small-firm lawyers on the same footing as their large-firm brothers and sisters.

The reality is that the Information Superhighway is littered with speed bumps. Courts, legislatures and government agencies have been slow to put their resources online. Those that do offer only recent information, with little in the way of archives. Secondary sources, such as treatises, remain even rarer. On top of it all, information on the Internet can be hard to find, requiring resort to a variety of indexes and search engines.

Yes, youngsters, we used to call it the Information Superhighway. Blame Al Gore.

The point is, we’ve come a long way baby. And there is little question in my mind that we would not be where we are today had Tom and Peter not had the crazy idea to launch the LII. From the start, their notion was to make the law freely and easily available to everyone. As the website says to this day, the LII “believes everyone should be able to read and understand the laws that govern them, without cost.”

In 1992, that was a revolutionary concept. Heck, in 2017, it is a revolutionary concept.

They didn’t have to go that route. They could have pursued a commercial enterprise in the hope of cashing in on the potential they saw in this emerging medium. But they didn’t. They chose the route they now call “law-not-com.”

So successful was the LII’s model that it inspired a world of copycats promoting free access to legal information all across the globe. These include the Asian Legal Information Institute, the Australasian Legal Information Institute, the British and Irish Legal Information Institute, the Canadian Legal Information Institute, the Hong Kong Legal Information Institute, the Southern African Legal Information Institute, the Uganda Legal Information Institute, and even the World Legal Information Institute, to name just some.

Continuing to Set the Standard

In my old-fogey nostalgia, I’ve been speaking about the LII in the past tense. Yet what is perhaps most remarkable about the LII is that it continues to set the standard for excellence and innovation in legal publishing. In the technology world, trailblazers often get left in the dust of the stampede that follows in their paths. But the LII continues to expand and innovate, both in the collections it houses and in its reach to global audiences.

Last year, for example, the LII became the new home for Oyez, the definitive collection of audio recordings of Supreme Court oral arguments. And, as more and more citizens take an interest in understanding their legal rights, traffic to the LII has been booming.

Twenty-five years after the LII ventured out into a largely barren Internet, striving to make legal information more widely available to the public, it is remarkable how far we’ve come. Even so, it is also disappointing how far we still have to go. Unfortunately, the legal-information landscape remains dotted with locked bunkers that keep many primary legal materials outside the public domain.

I don’t begrudge commercial publishing and research companies their right to charge for content they’ve created and innovations they’ve engineered. But I staunchly believe that there needs to be a baseline of free access for everyone to legal and government information. That was the goal of the LII when it launched in 1992 and that is the goal it has continued to work towards ever since. Were it not for the work of the LII, we would be nowhere as near to achieving that goal as we are today.

Robert J. Ambrogi is a lawyer and journalist who has been writing and speaking about legal technology and the Internet for over two decades. He writes the award-winning blog LawSites and is a technology columnist for Above the Law, ABA Journal and Law Practice magazine. Bob is a fellow of the College of Law Practice Management and was named in 2011 to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.”


The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
– Henry VI, Pt. 2, Act 4, sc. 2.

This line, delivered by Dick the Butcher (turned revolutionary) in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, is often performed tongue-in-cheek by actors to elicit an expected laugh from the audience. The essence of the line, however, is no joke, and relates to destabilizing the rule of law by removing its agents — those who promote and enforce the law. What no one could predict, including Shakespeare himself, is the horrific precision with which such a deed could be carried out.

The 1994 Genocide in Rwanda showed this horror and more, with upwards of one million killed in the span of three months. The effect on the legal system was particularly devastating, with the targeting of lawyers and the justice sector, resulting in the targeted killing of prosecutors and judges at its outset.

Rwanda’s Justice Sector Development
Since 1994, Rwanda has done a remarkable job rebuilding its society, establishing security, curbing corruption, and creating one of the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa.

Law Library at the Ministry of Justice, Kigali, Rwanda.

Law Library at the Ministry of Justice, Kigali, Rwanda.

One of the biggest areas of development in Rwanda, and in other areas of the world, has been strengthening justice sector institutions and strengthening the rule of law. In transitional states, especially those developing systems of democratic governance, the creation of online, reliable, and accessible legal information systems is a critical component of good governance. Rwanda’s efforts and opportunities for development in this area are noted below.

From 2010-2011, I played a very small part of this development when I served as a law clerk and legal advisor to then-Chief Justice Aloysie Cyanzayire of the Supreme Court of Rwanda. Working with a USAID-funded project, I was also able to participate with legal education reform, and the development of an online database of laws, the Rwanda Legal Information Portal (RwandaLIP). In the summer of 2013 I returned to Rwanda, with the support of the American Association of Law Libraries, to visit its law libraries and understand the role of law libraries in legal institutions and overall society. After learning the Rwanda LIP was no longer updated (and now offline entirely), investigating Rwanda’s online legal presence became a secondary research goal for the trip. The discovery also highlighted the importance of legal information systems and their role in justice sector reform. Part of this justice sector reform related to changes in Rwanda’s legal system. Once a Belgian colony, at independence Rwanda inherited a civil law system, codified much of the Belgian civil code, and today the main body of laws comes from enactments of Parliament. Rwanda’s judicial system, rebuilt after the 1994 Genocide, is made up of four levels of courts: District Courts, Provincial Courts, High Courts, and the Supreme Court.
With its civil law roots, courts in Rwanda were largely unconcerned with precedent. As Rwanda became a member of the East African Community in 2007 (and adopted English as an official language), the judiciary started a transition to a hybrid common law system, considering how to assign precedential value to court decisions. With this ongoing transition in Rwanda’s legal system, an online legal information system has become a significant need for legal and civil society.

One of four computer labs, called the "digital library" at Kigali Independent University, with more than 400 computer workstations available for student use.

One of four computer labs, called the “digital library” at Kigali Independent University, with more than 400 computer workstations available for student use.

Online Legal Information Systems
In order to establish the rule of law in a democratic system, citizens must have access, at the very minimum, to laws of a government. To make this access meaningful, a searchable database of laws should be created to allow users of legal information to find laws based on their particular information need. For this reason alone it is important for governments in transitional states to make a commitment to developing online legal information systems.

John Palfrey aptly noted: “In most countries, primary legal information is broadly accessible in one format or another, but it is rarely made accessible online in a stable and reliable format.” This is basically the case in Rwanda. Every law library, university library, and even the Kigali Public Library have paper copies of the Official Journal — the official laws of Rwanda. Today, however, the only current place to find laws online is through the Prime Minister’s webpage, where PDF copies of the Official Gazette are published. The website (Kinyarwanda for “law”) was frequently used by lawyers and members of the justice sector to search Rwanda’s laws, and allowed the general public to not only access laws, but run a full text search for keywords. This site, however, was not updated after 2011, and is now completely offline. The result is no online source to search Rwanda’s laws.

Law Library at the Parliament of the Republic of Rwanda in Kigali.

Law Library at the Parliament of the Republic of Rwanda in Kigali.

Rwanda is using its growing information infrastructure, however, to create other online quasi-legal information databases. For instance, the Rwanda Development Board created an online portal for businesses to access information on “investment related procedures” in Rwanda. The government is also allowing online registration of businesses, streamlining the processes and making it more accessible. These developments make sense with Rwanda’s reforms in the area of economic development, and its recent ranking in the top 30% globally for ease of doing business, and 3rd best in sub-Saharan Africa. While economic reform has driven these changes, justice sector reform has not yet yielded the same results for online legal information systems.

Service counter at the University Library at Kigali Independent University in Rwanda.  Students aren't allowed to browse the library stacks.

Service counter at the University Library at Kigali Independent University in Rwanda. Students aren’t allowed to browse the library stacks.

Rwanda’s Legal Information Culture Despite the limited online access to laws, there is a high value placed on legal information in Rwanda. Every legal institution has a law library and a dedicated library staff member (although most don’t have formal education in librarianship or information management). Moreover, members of the justice sector, from staff members to Permanent Secretaries and Ministers, believe libraries and access to legal information is of critical importance. A common theme in Rwanda’s law libraries, however, is the lack of funding. Some libraries have not invested in library materials in years, and have solely relied on donations to add items to their collections. It is not altogether surprising, then, that the Rwanda LIP remained un-funded, and is now completely defunct as an online legal information system. One source close to the Rwanda LIP project indicated that funding has been sought at Parliament, but as of today has yet to be successful.

The failure of the Rwanda LIP is perhaps a victim of how it came to be; that is, through donor-funded development. Creating sustainable online databases requires a government commitment of financial support. Just as before it, the Rwanda LIP was created through a donor-funded initiative, and at its conclusion the LIP’s source of funding also ended. For any donor-funded development initiative, sustainability is a key concern, and significant government collaboration is necessary for initiatives to remain after donor-funded projects end. This concept is especially true with legal information systems, and is perhaps the cause for the Rwanda LIP’s demise. While created in partnership with the Government of Rwanda, it failed to adequately secure a commitment for continued funding at its outset. Sustainability issues are not unique to Rwanda’s experience with online legal information systems. The availability of financial resources is one of the key challenges to creating a sustainable online database of laws. Working with developing countries in Africa, SAFLII found that sustainability issues come from “shortages of resources, skills and technical services.” While donor-funded projects have serious limitations, others experiencing the sustainability challenge have suggested databases supported by private enterprise, “offering free content as well as value-added services for sale.” One thing for certain is that long-term sustainability remains one of the biggest challenges for online legal information systems.

View of the Kigali Public Library in Kigali, Rwanda.

View of the Kigali Public Library in Kigali, Rwanda.

Print to Digital Transition and Overcoming the Digital Divide In addition to sustainability, transition from print to digital poses its own complications, and has emerged as a major issue in law libraries, from even the most established institutions. This challenge is especially unique in the context of developing and transitional states, where access to the internet can pose a significant challenge. This problem, known as the “digital divide,” has been described as something that “disproportionately disenfranchises certain segments of society and runs counter to the notion that inclusiveness and opportunity build strong communities and countries.” This is an even larger problem in developing and transitional states, where there is far less wealth and technological infrastructure for internet connectivity, and a greater disparity in access between and among communities.

Of all countries in the process of developing online legal information systems, however, Rwanda is perhaps the best suited to succeed. With high-speed fibre-optic internet cables recently installed throughout the small East African country, Rwanda has one of the best internet penetration rates in the developing world. So, while Rwanda’s law libraries (and other libraries) throughout the country have print copies of laws, there may be a legitimate opportunity to give a large number of citizens online access. For example, the Kigali Public Library, the flagship institution of the Rwanda Library Services, houses print copies of the laws of Rwanda but also has an internet cafe giving free access to online resources. Kigali Independent University has an “Internet Library” with more than 500 computers for student use. Rwanda’s law libraries are also open and accessible to the public, some of which have computers for use by the public as well. Other libraries, including the law library at the National University of Rwanda, have increasing access to online resources to serve their users.

In Rwanda, a new access to information law (Official Gazette No. 10 of 11.03.2013) makes online legal information even more critical in the developing state, and Rwanda’s current efforts can serve as an example for the importance of modernizing online legal information. The access to information law imposes a positive obligation on the Government of Rwanda, and some private companies working under government contracts, to disclose a broad range of information to the public and press. It has been stated that the law “meets standards of best practice in terms of scope and application” for freedom of information laws. Despite the law’s conditions to withhold information under Article 4, the significant shift in policy and the law’s broad range of information available are very positive signs. This and similar laws across the developing world have created a need for the improvement of existing legal information systems, or the creation of new systems to adequately make available essential legal information. A critical component to the implementation of this law, therefore, is a reliable and sustainable online legal information system.

A view of the volcanoes in the Northern Province of Rwanda.

A view of the volcanoes in the Northern Province of Rwanda.

Lessons Learned from Rwanda’s Experience
While and the Rwanda LIP are no longer online, institutions within the justice sector of Rwanda are currently working on solutions. In the meantime, there is no meaningful way to search Rwanda’s laws online. It is possible that a stronger financial commitment at the outset of the Rwanda LIP would have solved this. In the future, long-term sustainability should be one of the primary qualifications for creating an online system.

In the meantime, there are other ways of expanding Rwanda’s access to online legal information through databases of foreign law and secondary sources. Talking with law librarians in Rwanda, I learned that there is little, if any research instruction being delivered from law libraries. Even in the few libraries with subscription electronic databases, users aren’t necessarily being directed to relevant legal resources. Furthermore, law librarians generally collect, catalog and retrieve legal materials for users, rather than directing users to relevant sources. Users of legal information in Rwanda (and elsewhere) would be well served by being exposed to other online sources of legal information. Sites like the LII, WorldLII, and the Directory of Open Access Journals offers access to a wealth of free online primary and secondary materials that could be useful to researchers. Creating research guides and offering research instruction in these areas costs very little, and opens up countless resources that could be valuable to users of legal information in Rwanda, and elsewhere. Those working in justice sector development should investigate the possibility for this, in conjunction with creating online legal information systems of domestic laws.

Directional sign outside the Law Faculty at the Independent Institute of Lay Adventist of Kigali.

Directional sign outside the Law Faculty at the Independent Institute of Lay Adventist of Kigali.

Finally, the majority of those working as librarians in Rwanda’s law libraries have no formal instruction in library or information science. Nonetheless, it is remarkable that those with little or no formal training are competent librarians. Formal training or not, qualified librarians generally do not have the opportunity to offer research training to users of legal information. Treating law librarians as professionals would open up many opportunities to increase the capacity of users of legal information, and the online resources available.


IMG_1857Brian Anderson is a Reference Librarian and Assistant Professor at the Taggart Law Library at Ohio Northern University. His research involves the use of law libraries and legal information systems to support the rule of law in developing and transitional states. In September 2013 Brian presented two papers at the 2013 Law Via the Internet conference related to this topic; one related to civil society organizations and the use of the internet to strengthen the rule of law, and another about starting online legal information systems from scratch.

VoxPopuLII is edited by Judith Pratt. Editors-in-Chief are Stephanie Davidson and Christine Kirchberger, to whom queries should be directed.

Gnat's Landing Bar and GrillFor some time, Open Access has been a sort of gnat in my office, bugging me periodically, but always just on the edge of getting my full attention. Perhaps due in large part to the fact that our journals simply cost much less than those in other disciplines, law librarians have been able to stay mostly on the outside of this discussion. The marketing benefits of building institutional repositories are just as strong for law schools as other disciplines, however, and many law schools are now boarding the train — with librarians conducting. If you’re new to the discussion of Open Access in general, I suggest Peter Suber’s Open Access Overview for an excellent introduction. This piece is meant to briefly summarize the goals, progress, and future of OA as it applies (mostly) to legal scholarship.

Background and History
Open Access is not merely the buzzword of the moment: Open Access, or OA, describes work that is free to read, by anyone. Though usually tied to discussions of Institutional or Scholarly Repositories, the two do not necessarily have to be connected. Publications can be made “open” via download from an author’s institutional or personal home page, a disciplinary archive such as SSRN or BePress, or through nearly any other type of digital collection – so long as is it provided for free. For readers, free should mean free of cost and free of restrictions. These are sometimes described as gratis OA and libre OA, respectively. As Peter Suber notes, “Gratis OA is free as in beer. Libre OA is free as in beer and free as in speech.”

In addition to the immediate benefits of OA for researchers and for libraries (who would save a great deal of money spent on collections), strong ethical arguments can be made for OA as a necessary public service, given the enormous public support of research (tax dollars). The argument sharpens when research is explicitly supported by Federal or other grant funds. Paying to access grant-funded work amounts to a second charge to the taxpayer, while private publishers profit.

Of course, OA wasn’t an option with print resources; while anyone is “free” to go to a library that subscribes to a journal and read it, physical location itself is a barrier to access. In the networked digital environment, physical location need not be a barrier anymore. For members of the scholarly community who wish to share and discuss work with each other, that might be the end of the story. But while the technology is mature, policies and politics are still developing, and fraught with challenges posed largely by rights holders with significant financial interests in the current publishing system. One vocal segment of that market raises economic objections based on their financial support of the peer review process and other overhead costs related to production and dissemination of scholarly research. Since publishers control the permissions necessary to make OA work most fully, their opposition frustrates the efforts of many OA advocates. Not all publishers are invested in erecting barriers to OA, though; see, e.g., the ROMEO directory of publisher copyright policies and self-archiving. Though some impose embargo periods before posting, many publishers across disciplines allow deposit of the final published version of work.

In the midst of this conflict, many OA proponents acknowledge that production of scholarship is not without costs; Old Faithful didn’t start spouting Arrogant Bastard Ale one bright morning. Separate from the mechanism for sharing the Open Access version of an article, there are charges associated with its production that must be supported. The OA movement seeks a new model for recuperating these costs, rather than eliminating the costs altogether.

So, the “open” part of Open Access is roughly equivalent to “free” (for the reader), which presents economic challenges that remain to be solved. What about the “access” part?

Access to physical literature was largely a matter of indexing and physical copies; inclusion in the leading index(es) of a field was an honor (and potential economic advantage) to journals. Collection development decisions used to be made based in part on whether a journal was indexed. Access to online literature requires more than simply the digital equivalent in order to sufficiently serve the community, though: both the ability to download the article, and the ability to search across the literature are required for researchers to effectively manage the volume of literature.

As a foundational matter, openness in scholarly communication requires a certain amount of interoperability between the archives that serve up scholarship. The Open Archives Initiative (OAI) develop standards to promote interoperability between archives. Such standards support harvesting and assembling the metadata from multiple OAI-compliant archives to facilitate searching and browsing across collections in an institution, field, or discipline.

Paths to OA
One repeated practical question around Open Access is logistical: Who will build the archive, and how will it be populated on a regular basis? There are several models for implementing Open Access. Disciplinary Archives, Institutional or Unit/Departmental Repositories, and Self Archiving are all paths that can be taken, somewhat separate from publishers’ progress towards OA.

Disciplinary repositories are somewhat common around the academic community: PLoS & PubMedCentral, for example, provide access to a large collection of works in Science and Medicine. Like SSRN/LSN, they provide a persistent, accessible host for scholarship, and searchable collection for new papers in the field. One difference in the legal community is in the primary publishing outlets: for most law faculty, the most prestigious placement is in a top-20 law school-published law journal. These journals vary on their OA friendliness, but many faculty read their agreements in such a way to allow this sort of archiving. SSRN has thus provided a low bar for legal scholars to make their work available openly. SSRN also provides a relatively simple, if not entirely useful, metric for scholarly impact in appointments and in promotion and tenure discussions. As of last checking, SSRN’s abstract database was at 395k+, and their full text collection at 324k.

Institutional or Unit/Departmental Repositories (IRs) are also becoming a popular choice for institutions seeking to promote their brand, and to increase the profile of their faculty. A variety of options are available for creating an IR, from open-source hosting to turnkey or hosted systems like BePress’ Digital Commons. Both avenues tend to offer flexibility in creating communities within the IR for subjects or other series, for handling embargoes and other specialized needs. BePress’ Digital Commons, for example, can serve as an IR and/or a publishing system for the peer-review and editing process. As a path to Open Access, the only barriers to IRs are institutional support for the annual licensing/hosting fee and some commitment of staff for populating the IR with publications (or facilitating, if authors will self-archive).

Self-archiving represents an appeal directly to authors, who are not the tough sell that publishers tend to be. As Suber notes, the scholarly publishing arena lacks the economic disincentives to OA normally present for authors. Scholarly law journal articles, the bread and butter of the legal academy, do not produce royalties, so authors have nothing to lose from making their work available in OA platforms. One route to OA, therefore, is self-archiving by researchers. But while they might support OA in principle, researchers’ own best interests may push them to publish in “barrier-based” journals to protect their tenure and grant prospects, despite the interests of both the public and their own scientific community in no-cost, barrier-free access.

What about mandates as part of the path to OA? Recently, some academic institutions and grant agencies have begun instituting some form of mandate of open access publication. The NIH mandate, for example, implemented in 2008, requires deposit in PubMed Central within twelve months of publication for the results of any of their funded research. Others have followed, including Harvard Law School. As a path to OA, both are useful, though funder mandates alone wouldn’t hit enough of the literature to make a difference in terms of access for researchers. Institutional mandates, however, just might:

“When complemented by funding agency and foundation public-access mandates that capture the work originating with industry and government researchers who may not have faculty status, university mandates will, in time, produce nearly universal access to all the scientific literature.”

David Shulenberger

ROARMAP tracks these mandates and the directed repositories for each. Though other universities and departments have instituted mandates, the 2008 Harvard Law mandate is notable for having originated with the faculty:

“The Harvard Law School is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible. In keeping with that commitment, the Faculty adopts the following policy: Each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows of Harvard College permission to make his or her scholarly articles and to exercise the copyright in those articles. More specifically, each Faculty member grants to the President and Fellows a nonexclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license to exercise any and all rights under copyright relating to each of his or her scholarly articles, in any medium, and to authorize others to do the same, provided that the articles are not sold for a profit. The policy will apply to all scholarly articles authored or co-authored while the person is a member of the Faculty except for any articles completed before the adoption of this policy and any articles for which the Faculty member entered into an incompatible licensing or assignment agreement before the adoption of this policy. The Dean or the Dean’s designate will waive application of the policy to a particular article upon written request by a Faculty member explaining the need.”

Federal Input
Two recent bills dealt with open access: FRPAA, which would mandate OA for federally-funded research; and the Research Works Act (RWA), which would have prohibited such mandates. RWA (HR 3699) was withdrawn in late February of 2012, following Elsevier’s withdrawal of support. Its sponsors issued this statement:

“As the costs of publishing continue to be driven down by new technology, we will continue to see a growth in open-access publishers. This new and innovative model appears to be the wave of the future. … The American people deserve to have access to research for which they have paid. This conversation needs to continue, and we have come to the conclusion that the Research Works Act has exhausted the useful role it can play in the debate.”

FRPAA (HR 4004 and S 2096), on the other hand, is intended “to provide for Federal agencies to develop public access policies relating to research conducted by employees of that agency or from funds administered by that agency.” FRPAA would require any agencies with expenditures over $100 million annually to make manuscripts of the articles published from their funding public within six months of publication – FRPAA puts the burden/freedom on each agency to maintain an archive or draw on an existing archive (e.g., PMC). Each agency is free to develop their own policy as fits their needs (and perhaps their researchers’ needs). The bill also gives the agency a nonexclusive license to disseminate the work, with no other impact on copyright or patent rights. The bill also requires that the agency have a long-term preservation plan for such publications.

Copyright Tangles
How does copyright limit the effectiveness of mandates and other archiving? Less than the average law librarian might imagine. Except where an author’s publishing agreement specifies otherwise, the scholarly community generally agrees that an author holds copyright in his or her submitted manuscript. That copy, referred to as the pre-refereeing preprint, may generally be deposited in an Institutional repository such as the University of Illinois’ IDEALS, posted to an author’s/institution’s SSRN or BePress account, or to their own personal web page.

Ongoing Work
ARL/SPARC encourages universities to voice their approval and support of FRPAA. Researchers around the academy are beginning to show support as well: research has indicated that researchers would self-archive if they were 1) informed about the option, and 2) permitted by their copyright/licensing agreements with publishers to do so. With greater education about the benefits of Open Access for the institution as well as the scholarly community, authors could be encouraged to make better use of institutional and other archives.

In the legal academy, scholarly publishing is somewhat unusual. The preprint distribution culture is strong, and the main publishing outlets are run by the law schools – not by large, publicly-traded U.S. and foreign media corporations. Reprint permission requests are often handled by a member of the law school’s staff – or by a law student – and it’s unclear how much the journals know or care about republication or OA issues in general. But authors and their home institutions aren’t necessarily waiting around for answers; they’re archiving now, and taking down works later if asked. Carol Watson and James Donovan have written extensively about their experience with building and implementing an institutional repository at the University of Georgia, using the Berkeley Electronic Press Digital Commons software. See, e.g., Institutional Repositories: Essential Infrastructure for Scholarship in the Digital Age, Carol A. Watson, James M. Donovan, and Pamela Bluh; White Paper: Behind a Law School’s Decision to Implement an Institutional Repository, James M. Donovan and Carol A. Watson; and Implementing BePress’ Digital Commons Institutional Repository Solution: Two Views from the Trenches, James M. Donovan and Carol A. Watson.

Conclusion The bottom-line is, whether you’re an author or a librarian (or some other type of information/knowledge professional), you should be thinking about current and future access to the results of research — and the logistical/economical/political challenges — whether that research is happening in law or elsewhere in the academy.

Stephanie DavidsonStephanie Davidson is Head of Public Services at the University of Illinois in Champaign. Her research addresses public services in the academic law library, and understanding scholarly research methods and behavior.

VoxPopuLII is edited by Judith Pratt. Editors-in-Chief are Stephanie Davidson and Christine Kirchberger, to whom queries should be directed. The information above should not be considered legal advice. If you require legal representation, please consult a lawyer.

monogamy-as-prisoners-dilemma-1.gifWe pride ourselves on the murkiness of our authorial invitation process at VoxPop.  How are authors selected, exactly?  Nobody knows, not even the guy who does the selecting.  We’d like to lift the veil briefly, by asking for volunteers to help us with a particular area we’re interested in.

We’d like to run a point-counterpoint style dual entry on the subject of authenticity in legal documents.  Yes, we’ve treated the issue before.  But just today we were fishing around in obscure corners of the LII’s WEX legal dictionary, and we found this definition of the Ancient Document Rule:

Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, a permissible method to authenticate a document. Under the rule, if if a document is (1) more than 20 years old; (2) is regular on its face with no signs of obvious alterations; and (3) found in a place of natural custody, or in a place where it would be expected to be found, then the document is found to be prima facie authenticated and therefore admissible.

The specific part of FRE involved — Rule 901 —  is here.

Why would or wouldn’t we apply this thinking to large existing document repositories — such as the backfile of federal documents at GPO?  Is 20 years a reasonable limit?  Should it be 5, or 7?  What does “where found” mean?  We’d like to see two authors — one pro, one con — address these questions in side-by-side posts to VoxPop.

Where does the Prisoner’s Dilemma come in?  Well… if we get no volunteers, we won’t run this.  If we get volunteers on only one side of the issue, we’ll run a one-sided piece.  So, it’s up to you to decide whether both sides will be heard or not.  The window for volunteering will close on Tuesday; send your requests to the murky selector at { tom –  dot –  bruce – att – cornell – dot – edu }.

We’d also be happy to hear from others who want to write for VoxPop — the new year is fast approaching, and we need fresh voices.  Speak up!