This memorandum proposes a strategy of litigation, supplication, and agitation to solve our national PACER problem in 2015


All but inaccessible - what an awesome level of hyperbole. It’s a system that can be used for free, and when it’s used by professionals the cost tops out at three bucks a case. I’ve used it in my work, and it’s not very user-friendly, but it ain’t FORTRAN. I can’t imagine who, besides an attorney trolling where they shouldn’t, could ever rack up a thousand dollar bill - mine was never over $100. If Aaron Swartz was able to download the entire thing at the public library, I would call that accessible.

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I tried, I really tried, but . . . tl;dr, plz?

Me too! It’s one of the tl;dr-est posts I’ve seen in awhile, and a distilled version would be lovely…

TL; DR: The claim is that PACER is expensive, outdated, and places laws behind a pay wall. Malamud posits a national day of action where we write to judges and Congress and download as much stuff from PACER as we can get away with for free on May 1.

Boundegar is correct, to a point: PACER isn’t “all but inaccessible,” and some of Malamud’s claims are a little overstated. It’s easy to get a login for it, and if your bill for the quarter is less than $15, then the fee is waived. For the person doing casual research every now and then, that’s no biggie. The biggie, however, comes when reporters and academics want access to things like federal district court orders and documents, which – unlike orders and opinions from the federal courts of appeal – aren’t made freely accessible as a matter of course.

PACER does have problems, though. For one, it charges per search, something that even the expensive legal research databases – Westlaw and Lexis – don’t do anymore (unless you’re on a terrible plan). For another, claims that these fees are necessary to maintain the system are exaggerated. PACER actually makes a profit and it’s unclear where the surplus goes. And guess what: PACER could save even more money if they made their network infrastructure more efficient.

I’m sympathetic to the idea that our laws have to be in the public domain, but that doesn’t mean the government can’t charge a reasonable fee to cover the cost of, say, printing them out (paper, ink, and other consumables cost money). The argument is about what amount is reasonable and whether the act of charging for online documents is, itself, reasonable, given that no resources are really consumed; the only costs are the investment in IT infrastructure and the ongoing maintenance and support costs. (Note that the GPO makes a mountain of Congressional information available online, for free, and doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.)

Thank you for that!

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