Access to Legal Information

In 1990 TAP started a campaign to open up access to federal court decisions. The TAP initiative initially focused on the Department of Justice's JURIS system, an in-house online service which had a database that contained a vast amount of federal legal information, including copies of decades of federal court opinions, and extensive collections of administrative law.

The Department of Justice refused to provide public access to the court opinions on JURIS, because of controversial claims of ownership to the data made by West Publishing, a Minneapolis publisher of law books and WESTLAW, an expensive online service. In January, 1994 the JURIS system was shut down by the Clinton Administration, after more than 22 years of operation, and replaced with a series of contracts with West Publishing for WESTLAW.

West Publishing has enormous monopoly power in the legal publishing field, due to the firm's assertions of ownership over corrections to the text of court opinions and the company's page numbers for its bound volumes of cases, which are the basis for more than a century of legal citations.

TAP has subsequently been involved in a number of initiatives designed to broaden public access to legal information, including efforts to increase the electronic dissemination of opinions by the courts, the adoption of public domain citation systems, facilitating the organization of a new trade association representing smaller entrepreneurial publishers who want to compete against West, and challenging certain West lobbying practices, such as the funding of cash prizes and other gifts to judges.

Many of the older documents on the disputes over access to legal information are found in the INFO-POLICY-NOTES archives.

A fund read is the March 5 and Monday, March 6, 1995, the Minneapolis Star Tribune expose on "West Publishing and The Courts." The Star Tribune articles provided an explosive description of West's special ties to the federal judiciary, including the funding of luxurious trips for Supreme Court justices to expensive resorts, and the failure of judges to disclosure those gifts when deciding several court cases in favor of West.

A good source for information on the cases over copyright are found on the Hyperlaw web site.