Case Law Demonitized – Free at Last.

The significance of the offer by Maritime Law Book of free access to its collection of over 215,000 cases under the name “Raw Judgments” has not yet been given the attention it deserves in the world of Canadian legal information as a portent of things to come.

Eric Appleby, the founder of Maritime Law Book, has long been a leading innovator in Canadian legal publishing, from the launch of the New Brunswick Reports, to the creation of a national jurisdictional law reporter system in print and online, to the introduction of the MLB Key Number System. Based on his track record for successfully identifying the “next trend” in legal publishing, any new initiative by Maritime Law Book warrants careful study and analysis.

In the case of “Raw Judgments”, Eric was inspired by Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired magazine, who says that “free has emerged as the new economic model”. Eric acknowledges that copyright in case law is not held by Maritme Law Book and believes that free access to case law is expected by the new generation of lawyers and legal researchers.

By taking the lead in offering free access to cases, more new customers will be drawn to Maritime Law Book’s website and become familiar with its National Reporter System. Little or no impact is expected on MLB’s existing paying customer base which values the headnotes and the ease of access to caselaw provided by the MLB Key Number System. If anything, new paying customers may be enticed to subscribe to the National Reporter System.

“Free services” are becoming the norm in Canada.

The demonitization of case law is well advanced in Canada. In addition to Maritime Law Book, CANLII, SOQUIJ, the British Columbia Courts and a fast growing list of federal and provincial tribunals all offer free access to their decisions and reasons for judgment. With the launch of “Raw Judgments”, we now have the first “commercial” legal publisher to do the same.

Will the remaining commercial legal publishers follow suit?

Many believe that the new business model adopted by Maritime Law Book is the prototype for the legal publishing industry of the future. Indeed, even as we speak, the marketing gurus responsible for “innovation” in all of the major publishing houses are studying how best to respond to the demonitization of primary law. It may be that the question is really “when” will the other legal publishers follow Maritime Law Book’s lead.

Like Maritime Law Book, they all have large collections of case law, headnotes, and key word classification systems, but they also have case and statute citators and valuable secondary content written by the leading authorities in the land. Free case law may be the loss leader by which this content is marketed and sold in the very near future.

Free vs Free

An even bigger question is “what” will the major legal publishers offer for free? Will they offer their complete collections of case law? Will the cases have key words attached? Will the free offering be something else? To compete with each other in drawing users to one free case law site as opposed to another, some of the major publishers may even opt to include value added content such as case summaries in the mix.

Only time will tell whether or if this will happen, but I believe that the day is not far off when legal publishers will adopt a new business model that includes free online access to case law as an integral part of their product offerings. Once again, Maritime Law Book will have led the way.

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