announced tonight that in partnership with Public.Resource.Org and with legal representation from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it has purchased and has now made available at no charge the equivalent of nearly two million pages of legal documents. If printed and piled on top of each other, the documents would make a stack of books 348 feet tall. Included are all U.S. Supreme Court decisions and all Courts of Appeals decisions from 1950 on.Creative Commons
Though these texts have always technically been in the public domain, the organizations had to purchase the electronic version from a private company that had compiled it. Now available at this link, they have also been converted to XHMTL so that anyone can develop user interfaces and search engines against the information.
ContextWill the development community rise to the challenge of building on top of this historic data? It's a solid bet that it will. From basic incorporation of the newly available content into existing search engines to more sophisticated and unexpected application development, this large database of structured, historically important information is sure to prove valuable in ways beyond the immediate importance of public access on principle.
There's certainly an active developer community ready and willing these days to experiment either for public good and/or personal advancement. The Reuters semantic web API OpenCalais that we wrote about last week, for example, has had 500 developers sign up to use the API in a single week, we're told by project partner Mashery.
While the newly released legal documents are content more than they are technology, in this emerging era of data, that distinction is growing less important. Freely available, large quantities of content are just asking for machine processing, but all the cool tools that are being developed need content to stoke their hungry fires and give them meaning. What better content to do so than a key part of the formerly inaccessible legal fabric of recent US history?