It’s Open Access Week this week, an opportunity to highlight efforts to promote, facilitate and otherwise support access to cultural, scientific and legal information. If you’re on campus at York University this Friday afternoon Osgoode Hall Law School professor Carys Craig will introduce the screening of “The Internet’s Own Boy” a presentation of the York University Libraries Scholarly Communication Initiative. If you can’t be there Friday I encourage you to watch this wonderful telling of Aaron Swartz’s life story which is also openly available on the Internet Archive.
It’s a sad and tragic story which begins in many ways when Swartz attempts to help with Carl Malamud’s call to liberate U.S. federal court documents and other legal papers from the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) database.
PACER claims to provide “public access to court information,” and it does, but as Sarah Glassmeyer wrote earlier this year the ‘P’ in PACER doesn’t stand for “public” as in “public library” where “all the information contained within it was free to use”; it stands for “public” as in “public records” meaning “everyone is free to look at them.” So you can look, but because the U.S. Congress “directed the Judiciary to fund the initiative through user fees,” looking at these public records currently costs users 10 cents per page viewed.
Now 10 cents per page doesn’t seem like much, but as John Schwartz writes in a 2009 New York Times article:
“… Pacer adds up, when court records can run to thousands of pages. Fees get plowed back to the courts to finance technology, but the system runs a budget surplus of some $150 million, according to recent court reports.”
These access charges have been improved somewhat since that article was written. In 2011 the fee structure to access documents on PACER was changed so that users viewing less than 150 pages in a given quarter would not be charged a fee and a three dollar cap for “electronic access to any single document” was also introduced. Regardless, it makes you realize just how lucky we are to have CanLII working to provide us with such a fantastic and open service to our Canadian legal documents.
I’ve also been fortunate to work with Louis Mirando and Daniel Demanuele over the past year or so on a project to develop and implement the Osgoode Digital Commons. Officially launched on October 7th as part of the the 125th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Osgoode Hall Law School, the Osgoode Digital Commons,
“… captures, preserves and makes available to the global public the intellectual output of the law school, including faculty research, scholarship and publications; journals and research centres; selected records and archives; and digital initiatives from the Osgoode Hall Law School Library.”
This so far includes the complete runs of 4 Osgoode journals, the Osgoode research paper series, and a collection of videos documenting many special lectures and events that have taken place at Osgoode. We are currently in the process of acquiring and making available historical faculty scholarship published in many non-Osgoode publications.
So far the Commons has shown remarkable success with, at the time of this post, over 220,000 full-text downloads of Osgoode scholarship worldwide. It’s fascinating to watch this number grow on the real-time readership map found on the Osgoode Digital Commons main page that shows where in the world individual documents are being accessed and downloaded.
In the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto Aaron Swartz wrote:
“Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world.”
Let’s continue to fight for open access to our public information and remember the pioneering efforts of Aaron Swartz.