Advocating for Open Access to Legal Information

Librarians and information professionals often play a role in advocating for the open access (OA) to information. I consider myself one of those advocates and will discuss what I think that means.

My OA journey began in an academic environment with the open sharing of research and educational materials, and the enthusiastic promotion of Creative Commons (CC) licences. Later experience outside of an academic institution showed me that “open access” can be applied to all types of materials, incorporate different kinds of open licences while respecting copyright law, use intricate business models, and involve competing ideologies.

If we look back at key declarations and statements promoting open access, with a focus on legal information, we can gain some insight into the complexity of the perspectives involved.

You cannot talk about the definition of open access without starting with the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), the declaration that offered the first OA definition back in 2002.

“By “open access” to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

Also in 2002, this same year, legal information institutes met in Montreal and published the Montreal Declaration on Free Access to Law to “promote and support free access to public legal information throughout the world, principally via the Internet” and “provide to the end users of public legal information clear information concerning any conditions of re-use of that information, where this is feasible” among many other agreed upon action items.

In 2007, the Durham Statement on Open Access to Legal Scholarship called on all law schools “to commit to ending print publication of its journals and to making definitive versions of journals and other scholarship produced at the school immediately available upon publication in stable, open, digital formats, rather than in print” and “to commit to keeping a repository of the scholarship published at the school in a stable, open, digital format.”

Noticed by the directors of the Canadian law school libraries, the Calgary Statement on Free Access to Legal Information was published in 2011, this time specifying preference for CC licensing and digital publication with CanLII.

There have been many changes in the OA landscape since these statements were published, but despite differences in details on where and how to share information openly, all of them share the same mission: to support free access to public information on the internet.

Being an advocate for open access can have as broad and varied a meaning as the many different approaches, definitions, motivations, and pathways to it. The important thing is that we are thinking about and working towards a future with better accessibility, availability, and discoverability of the law and legal information. An OA advocate for legal information can (and should) appreciate multiple perspectives and the complexity of the ever-changing OA publishing environment.

A few ways to advocate for open access legal information can be to simply discuss new and evolving ways to share legal information openly, promote new tools and communicate ideas, or become involved in initiatives. If you are taking action to make access to legal information more open and equitable, whether outwardly or behind the scenes, then as far as I’m concerned, you are an advocate of open access to legal information and can call yourself one!

What other ways are you advocating for the open access of law and legal information?


  1. Thank you for this great post! In 2016, the IFLA Governing Board endorsed the IFLA Statement on Government Provision of Public Legal Information in the Digital Age ( as drafted by members of the IFLA Law Libraries Section. The section is working to promote the goals of the Statement, which addresses the online publishing practices of governments as they make their primary legal materials available on the Internet, specifically the issues of access, authentication, and preservation. For more about the work of the Law Libraries Section, or to join our mailing list, see