Sunday, August 16, 2009

Crowdsourced gatecrashing

I've blogged previously about Carl Malamud's efforts to make Pacer information freely available by exploiting a free trial to the service to downloading as many court documents as possible and republish them on the web.  Ars Technica reports on an interesting project by the The Center for Information Technology Policy that takes a more incremental, automated approach; the Center has developed a Firefox addon, Recap, that captures the information Pacer subscribers view when using the site, and uploads it to a public domain mirror site at the Internet Archive. There's nothing illegal about it (so far), since the fee that Pacer charges is for its value-added (some would say value-deducted) presentation of the information, not the documents themselves, which are public domain. Pacer subscribers using Recap are thus replicating the database at IA, where it will be freely available, and with a much improved interface. Moreover,  Recap shows Pacer users when the documents they're looking for already exist, free of charge, in the replicated database. A very interesting and potentially controversial concept, that is being hotly debated at Slashdot.

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