Columbia Law professor Tim Wu has been a busy man lately. In addition to kicking off the debate about "wireless network neutrality" earlier this year, Wu has helped to launch two recent projects designed to bring power to the people.
First up is AltLaw, a site that tries to make legal opinions easier to find. The database currently provides full-text search of Supreme Court and Federal Appellateopinions from the last decade or so. Italso allows for easy downloading of decisions in PDF format or plain text. The goal is to make US case law at the highest levels easily available to citizens without requiring them to subscribe to specialized legal databases or learn the sometimes arcane art of navigating the various appellate court web sites.
Currently, the site does not include decisions from the federal district courts, where most federal cases start, nor does it include state courts. Federal court information can currently be retrieved from a system called PACER, though it costs $.08 per page to view most documents, requires an account and credit card information to even browse the system, and the interface lets users relive the glory days of 1998. If AltLaw can make these federal decisions freely accessible and easy to search, it could quickly become an important resource for researchers, lawyers, and citizens.
The site was started in part by Columbia's Program on Law and Technology, which Wu directs. The Program is also a cosponsor of the new site KeepYourCopyrights.org, which helps creators, well, keep their copyrights. No fancy AJAX mojo here; the site is a series of static pages that lay out the basics of copyright law as it affects creators. It also offers some guidance for thinking about how to handle the rights granted by a copyright with the goal of encouraging "a more proactive attitude toward copyright management."
Most creators know that any work they create is automatically copyrighted, even if they never send documentation to the Library of Congress. But the site also points out some features of copyright law that many creators might not know; for instance, that the law gives everyone a chance to reclaim rights after 35 years after signing them away to a publisher, movie studio, or record label.Furthermore, "You have this termination right even if your contract says not only that you gave everything away for all time but even also that you promised not to try to get your rights back."
The site is careful to note that it is not offering legal advice to copyright owners, but if you're a creator who wants to bone up on copyright law, you could do worse than starting at KeepYourCopyrights.