Tim Wu and friends have launched AltLaw, a free, publicly accessible, easily searchable database of federal cases (not all of them, but a growing number). This is a great idea and an admirable public service. Of course, court decisions are public domain content—we all own them or you could say no one owns them. But ownership, or complete lack thereof, does not mean access, much less cheap access or useful access. Of course, there are some other places where the public can get free access to the law—e.g., Findlaw and the the Cornell Legal Information Institute. AltLaw adds a useful search tool, currently being developed to give the user advanced search options.As discussed by Tim O’Reilly and Susan Crawford and a recent NY Times article, Carl Malamud, a champion for making public domain material publicly accessible, is building an “unencumbered full-text repository” of federal and state court decisions.
Why hasn’t Google done with cases what it’s done with patents and books? Is that on the horizon? Has it been done already and I just don’t know?