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Lawsuit says that America's "break even" court records website shouldn't be making 98%+ profits

Wednesday February 6, 2019. 06:10 PM , from BoingBoing
PACER (previoulsy) is the controversial US system for publishing court records; although the records themselves are in the public domain (US government documents are not copyrightable), you have to pay $0.10/page to read them, which is supposed to pay for the cost of serving them.

PACER makes some $150m/year, to support a service that's basically just a big cloud drive full of (unindexed, unsearchable) PDFs, and which only costs $3m/year to operate. Services like RECAP, which copy PACER pages its users pay to read into a free repository, have drawn the ire of federal prosecutors and the FBI, and may have led to the malicious prosecution of Aaron Swartz, which ultimately ended in his death.

While previous legislative attempts to make the law free for every American to read have died in Congress, a new push shows promise: the US government is being sued to make PACER free for all, and one of the amicus briefs filed in support of the case comes from Joe Lieberman, who wrote the E-Government Act that established PACER in the first place.

Lieberman is joined by a roster of judges from across the political spectrum, as well as free-speech nonprofits and many others.

If they prevail, a great historic wrong will have been righted: equal access to the law -- without regard to your ability to pay to read it -- is necessary for equal treatment under the law.

In addition to Lieberman, the list of amici includes dozens of journalistic entities and former judges Richard Posner and Shira Scheindlin -- the latter most famous for dismantling the NYPD's unconstitutional stop-and-frisk program. The Knight First Amendment Institute and the Free Law Project (part of the RECAP project, which mirrors paywalled court documents for free) have also submitted briefs arguing for a stricter interpretation of the law and free access to documents already paid for once by the taxpayers who fund the court system that creates the documents.

If they prevail, the government's going to be greeted by a long line of taxpayers expecting refunds. The system in place now is needlessly expensive. The cost of accessing court documents should be $0 for all taxpayers -- especially since the portal handling requests looks and acts like it cost roughly that much to get up and running. Overcharging and under-delivering is something the government does well, but that doesn't mean we should be expected to sit there and take it.

Multiple Parties (Including The Author Of The Law Governing PACER) Ask Court To Stop PACER's Screwing Of Taxpayers [Tim Cushing/Techdirt]
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