November 14, 2009
GAO Comments on NARA's Progress for Electronic Archive
The General Accountability Office recently issued a statement updating its review of the National Archive's attempts to implement an electronic record keeping system for the unclassified data of the United States government. To get an idea of the scope of the project, the states that Archive had only ingested 2.3 terabytes of the 78.4 terabytes generated by the Bush administration's Executive Office of the President (EOP) over the course of 8 years. That number does not include the electronic records generated by Congress. A system for congressional materials will come online at a later point in time.
The GAO saw positives in the Archive efforts with the first two increments of five implemented, though behind schedule and with some cost overruns. These included the base system and the EOP module. The other 3 modules concern the aforementioned congressional intake system, and back up and restore functionality. The GAO identified problems such as inconsistent project management and a lack of information that identified what functionality had been delivered so far. If this project proves anything, it is that tech is hard, and even harder for a project of this scope. Documents come in various forms and on a multitude of media and it takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money to sort it through. The ultimate goal is to make this information available online to the public. The GAO statement is here. [MG]
Amended Google Book Settlement Agreement Filed
Google, the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers filed their amended version of the Google Book Settlement in federal court Friday. "The agreement narrows the scope to the US, UK, Canada and Australia. It alters how revenue generated by “unclaimed works” will be handled. It formally grants retailers who license out-of-print books covered by the settlement — including Google competitors — a 37% share of sales. It also clarifies how the book pricing algorithm will work," writes Danny Sullivan in Revised Google Book Settlement Filed & Live Blogging The Press Call. Sullivan's post is highly recommended. See also Elinor Mills' Google Books settlement sets geographic, business limits on Cnet. ("The revised settlement makes it clear that Google will not display any content by default from works that are for sale as new internationally, which are considered commercially available. In addition, it includes language that specifies that Google will not share any private information with the Registry without valid legal process.")
Lawyers for The Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers and other plaintiffs said that they and Google agreed to work with the the Justice Department to resolve the DOJ's antitrust concerns in the amended settlement agreement. See Mark Giangrande's LLB post DOJ Opposes Google Book Settlement Terms, Not the Settlement. Watch for James Grimmelman's on-going legal analysis on The Laboratorium. The first installment was posted at 2:42 AM this morning and is entitled GBS: Midnight Madness.
- Amended Google Book Settlement Agreement and it's Redline Version
- Memorandum in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Approval of Amended Settlement Agreement
- Summary of Changes (provided by Google)
- Questions About the Revised Google Books Settlement (provided by Google)
As for parties with a very vested interest in seeing the Amended Google Book Settlement succeed or fail, see the following:
- Google: Modifications to the Google Books Settlement
- Authors Guild: Amended Settlement Filed in Authors Guild v. Google
- Open Book Alliance: Is the Google Books Settlement Worth the Wait?
Link to the settlement administration website for the Google Book Search Copyright Class Action Settlement. See also The Public Index.
Web Classification: Any Hope Left for Volunteer Projects Like DMOZ/ODP?In Rise Of The Web Librarian: An Elegant DMOZ Solution, Eric Ward suggests that the way to reinvigorate DMOZ/ODP is to get LIS students involved with institution support coming from ALA and US library and information science schools. "Imagine if Bob Keating, Editor In Chief of DMOZ, got together with the ALA, and through a joint venture invited the Dean of every graduate program in Library and Information Science to send invitations to every single graduate student in Library Science to participate in the DMOZ/ODP." See also Debra Mastaler's interview of Bob Keating at DMOZ: A Solid Directory Or The Great Pumpkin Of Search? [JH]
November 13, 2009
Massachusetts Governor Supports State's First Public Law School Subject to Fiscal AnalysisMassachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick supports a plan to create the state's first public law school as long as the University of Massachusetts at Darmouth's acceptance of the donation of the independent Southern New England School of Law's assets meets financial tests. The University of Massachusetts is hoping to enroll the first class at the University's Dartmouth law program in the fall of next year if all required approvals have been obtained. Details here. A similar plan was rejected by the state's board of higher education in 2005. See also LLB's Second Attempt for First Public Law School in Massachusetts. [JH]
Friday Fun: Library Patrons Gone Wild
And a library staffer has to deal with them without going postal. [JH]
AO's PACER User Survey UnderwayHat tip to Erika Wayne for calling attention to the PACER user survey being conducted by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on Legal Research Plus. The survey is part of the AO's comprehensive assessment of the PACER program. From the announcement: "To assist with this effort, users of PACER may participate in a short survey regarding their satisfaction with current services and any suggestions for potential enhancements." Click here to take the survey. Do note that the survey will only be open for about 30 days. [JH]
CRS Report on Congressional PrintingCongressional Printing: Background and Issues for Congress (Nov. 5, 2009) provides an overview and analysis of issues related to the processing and distribution of congressional information by the Government Printing Office. [JH]
Opening: Librarian, Connecticut Judicial Branch
The Connecticut Judicial Branch is seeking a qualified individual to perform professional library duties which include providing legal reference and research guidance, instruction in database searching, and catalog and collection maintenance.
Minimum Qualifications: A Master’s degree in Library Science or Information Science from a graduate school accredited by the American Library Association.
Starting Salary: $55,424 – plus benefits. In-state travel required.
Applications must be received by November 23, 2009. Applications should be submitted through the online application site at: http://www.jud.ct.gov/external/news/jobs/. Click on “Law Librarian I” and then the “Online applications are preferred” link within the job description. On-line applications are preferred; however, you may mail your resume to:
90 Washington Street
Hartford, CT 06106
Please reference ad I.D. #09-1000-052
November 12, 2009
Pending SCOTUS Cases: Focus on Bilski v. Kappos
The Supreme Court heard arguments in the Bilski case on Monday. The case involves the patentability of business processes, which is arguably one of the four categories of invention eligible for patent under Section 101 of the patent Act. As listed, these can be a "useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter." Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw submitted an application to the Patent and Trademark Office for a method of hedging risk in commodity transactions. The relevant portions of the claim are laid out in the slip opinion by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit at page 2. The Patent Office rejected the claim and the appeal was taken to the Court of Appeals. Before the three judge panel ruled, the Court of Appeals voted to hear the case en banc, upholding the Patent Office's rejection. The analogy for Bilski's patent claim is described by the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit as a system where a middleman entered into separate fixed-price contracts with coal providers and purchasers:
In essence, the claim is for a method of hedging risk in the field of commodities trading. For example, coal power plants (i.e., the "consumers") purchase coal to produce electricity and are averse to the risk of a spike in demand for coal since such a spike would increase the price and their costs. Conversely, coal mining companies (i.e., the "market participants") are averse to the risk of a sudden drop in demand for coal since such a drop would reduce their sales and depress prices. The claimed method envisions an intermediary, the "commodity provider," that sells coal to the power plants at a fixed price, thus isolating the power plants from the possibility of a spike in demand increasing the price of coal above the fixed price. The same provider buys coal from mining companies at a second fixed price, thereby isolating the mining companies from the possibility that a drop in demand would lower prices below that fixed price. And the provider has thus hedged its risk; if demand and prices skyrocket, it has sold coal at a disadvantageous price but has bought coal at an advantageous price, and vice versa if demand and prices fall. Importantly, however, the claim is not limited to transactions involving actual commodities, and the application discloses that the recited transactions may simply involve options, i.e., rights to purchase or sell the commodity at a particular price within a particular timeframe. (Bilski, CAFC Slip Op. at 2-3.)
Courts have read Section 101 of the Patent Act to exclude the laws of nature, natural phenomenon, abstract ideas, mathematical formulas, and other obvious concepts. At issue in the case is the correct test for the type of type of idea presented by Bilski and Warsaw which is at some point a mathematical construct implemented in a series of steps to achieve the hedge. The Court of Appeals abandoned the "useful, concrete and tangible result" test articulated in State Street, 149 F3d 1368 (Fed. Cir, 1998). That case allowed the transformation of data by machine as a patentable process because it produced a tangible result. The abstract ideas themselves were not patentable until reduced to a practical application with a result. Bilski's claim would likely have passed muster under this test. Then again, a broad range of activities would also qualify, say reducing the reference interview to a series of steps where the librarian ultimately gives the patron information that successfully answers the problem. I will submit an application to the Patent Office pending the resolution in the Bilski case. This is less the joke it seems when Justice Breyer suggested he could conceivably reduce teaching antitrust to law students to a series of steps and patent it (Argument Transcript at 8-9). Counsel for Bilski agreed it could be patentable. It is, of course, counsel's job to suggest absurd results if it justifies the client's position.
The Court of Appeals used the "machine or transformation" test is derived from Diamond v. Diehr. That case involved the application of mathematical principles to cure rubber. The Supreme Court upheld the patent even though the underlying mathematical algorithms embedded in the software were not patentable, the transformation of the rubber's state made the process patentable. Bilski's claim is arguable a mental process that can rely on a machine for execution, but does not have to.
What makes this case more interesting is application to software patents. These can make companies such as IBM and Microsoft a ton of money through licensing. Microsoft was hit with a judgment for violating a patent for a method of inserting a plug-in into a browser. Any browser utilizing the method, developed by the University of California and licensed to a company called Eolas, could be liable. The potential ruling in Bilski could affect this and other technology based patents. Some claim that software patents threaten open source software. Microsoft has in fact claimed that open source software violates at least 235 of its patents but the company refuses to be more specific. Most software is nothing more than a mathematical expression that leads to a result in one form or another. The Supreme Court may fool everyone and sidestep the issue by deciding the case in context. Bilski does not involve software and may not be willing to decide the case broadly enough to answer that question.
US News Survey Update
As we all must know by know, US News did not follow the ABA lead and drop the volume/title count as a measure of library performance (or justification - not sure what the ultimate goal is for US News). I became curious about the fork in direction by US News and got the contact information from our Dean for Bob Morse (Director of Data Research) who is in charge of the rankings there. Why not call him and see what the story is, right?
So the story goes like this. Apparently, he had a conversation with a law librarian who told him that these numbers had to be compiled for the ACRL survey. Although he knew the ABA dropped the question, he felt that since ACRL asked for it, he would still include it this year. I am not at an ACRL school so I am unsure of what statistics are required for that survey.
What about the future? Mr. Morse did not have any concrete plans on the horizon to change the questions about library counts. We chatted about why that stand alone number was not quite relevant any longer and other types of performance measures . My impression is that "he gets it." His concern is how schools/libraries justify their library expenditures and what can the students expect in the way of library resources. Certainly, there are better ways to do this than just a number.
How do we change this? Happily, Mr. Morse was open to the idea of change. He was impressed that we, as a group, were so organized as to educate the ABA about what not to ask about libraries. I noted a scent of lament that schools did not organize themselves more generally in order to offer guidance to the rankers about surveys. But, I must have been dreaming!
More to the point: Mr. Morse would like to work with a group of law librarians representing a cross section of schools to revise the US News survey questions about the library for next year! Could it really be this easy? I will follow up on appropriate list servs to identify a group. Hopefully, we can be organized once more and get this survey looking a little bit more intelligent. If you have ideas, let me know! (VS)
Intel Unveils e-Reader for the Visually Impaired
The Intel Reader is intended to assist people who are blind, dyslexic or have weak vision. The paperback-sized, less than 1.5 pounds device combines a 5-megapixel camera with Linux-powered OCR, a 4 GB Intel Solid State Drive and text-to-voice software. The Intel Reader currently sells at $1,500. A portable capture station that can hold and power the e-reader while it's being used to scan a large number of pages sells for $400. Intel's Press Release and Product Description web pages. Details on the portable capture station. See Digital Trends, Computerworld and Gizmodo articles for additional details. Video demo below.
The technology powering the Intel Reader, when compared to the Kindle DX, looks like it may be a step in the right direction for providing e-textbooks to the visually impaired. The National Federation of the Blind opposes IHE programs that are attempting to deploy Amazon's Kindle DX as a means of distributing e-textbooks to students because the Kindle DX in its current form cannot be used by visually impaired students and therefore denies them equal access to e-textbooks. The Kindle DX features text-to-speech technology but the menus of the device are not accessible to the visually impaired, making it impossible for a visually impaired user to purchase books from Amazon’s Kindle store, select a book to read, activate the text-to-speech feature, and use the advanced reading functions available on the Kindle DX. See Mark Giangrande's LLB post, Two Universities Won't Take Kindles Over Lack of Easy Audio Features for Blind Students. [JH]
The 2009 NLJ 250: Headcount of BigLaw Firms Declined by 5,000 Lawyers"The United States' largest law firms this year suffered the deepest cuts in their attorney numbers since The National Law Journal began tracking their census figures more than 30 years ago," writes the NLJ's Leigh Jones about the findings of the 2009 National Law Journal 250 survey in 2009 Worst Year for Lawyer Headcount in 3 Decades, Says 'NLJ 250' Survey. The number of attorneys in 2009 declined to 126,669 lawyers, compared with 131,928 attorneys last year. "The overall downturn in totals this year was partly a correction of the rapid growth that NLJ 250 firms experienced during the preceding five years" according to Jones. Link to the 2009 NLJ 250 (subscription required). [JH]
Cornell University Library Publishes New Digitization Manual
An excerpt from the press release for Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for Digitization for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums by Peter B. Hirtle, Emily Hudson, and Andrew T. Kenyon (Cornell University Library, Oct. 14, 2009):
Many [cultural] institutions are developing publicly-accessible websites in which users can visit online exhibitions, search collection databases, access images of collection items, and in some cases create their own digital content. Digitization, however, also raises the possibility of copyright infringement. It is imperative, therefore, that staff in libraries, archives, and museums have a good understanding of fundamental copyright principles and how institutional procedures can be affected by the law.
Copyright and Cultural Institutions was written to assist understanding and compliance with copyright law. It discusses the basics of copyright law and the exclusive rights of the copyright owner, the major exemptions used by cultural heritage institutions, and stresses the importance of "risk assessment" when conducting any digitization project.
Which Magazines Are Available in Google Books?A list of the 45 magazines currently available in Google Books has been compiled by Jeffrey Peng, Software Engineer, Google Books. The announcement on Inside Google Books blog and the list here. [JH]
November 11, 2009
Two Universities Won't Take Kindles Over Lack of Easy Audio Features for Blind StudentsThe University of Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse University in New York will not use the Kindle as part of a mass roll out until Amazon makes the device friendlier to blind individuals. The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting this along with a lawsuit filed by the National Federation of the Blind against various universities participating in a pilot program where these schools gave out large screen Kindles with electronic versions of textbooks. The problem with the Kindle is that the feature to turn on audio reading requires someone with sight as the menu choices to do so are not easy for a sight impaired individual to locate. Until Amazon remedies the problem, the NFB feels these devices discriminates against blind students. Amazon says they are working on the problem. The Chronicle story is here. The NFB press release and comment on the school's announcement is here. [MG]
Google Caffeine About to Go Live on Google Search
In New Version of Google Search Is Launching Soon, Mashable's Ben Parr reports that Google Caffeine will go live in its first datacenter soon. See the Google Caffeine splash page announcement. "Google Caffeine, wouldn’t change the face or design of the Google search engine," writes Parr, "but would instead provide an overhaul of the architecture of Google’s web search that would improve its indexing speed, accuracy, and comprehensiveness." See Mashable's earlier posts about Google Caffeine:
- Google Caffeine: What You Need to Know [Video]
- Compare The Old and the New Google, Side By Side
The Justice Gap, An Updated LSC Report
The Legal Services Corporation has updated its 2005 Justice Gap Report. According to Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Needs of Low-Income Americans (Sept. 2009) there continues to be a major gap between the civil legal needs of low-income people and the legal help that they receive. From the Report's executive summary:
- Data collected in the spring of 2009 show that for every client served by an LSC-funded program, one person who seeks help is turned down because of insufficient resources.
- New state legal needs studies have added depth to a body of social science knowledge that has produced consistent findings for a decade and a half, documenting that only a small fraction of the legal problems experienced by low-income people (less than one in five) are addressed with the assistance of either a private attorney (pro bono or paid) or a legal aid lawyer.
- Analysis of the most recent available figures on attorney employment shows that nationally,on the average, only one legal aid attorney is available for every 6,415 low-income people. By comparison, there is one private attorney providing personal legal services (those meeting the legal needs of private individuals and families) for every 429 people in the general population who are above the LSC poverty threshold.
- New data indicate that state courts, especially those courts that deal with issues affecting lowincome people, in particular lower state courts and such specialized courts as housing and family courts, are facing significantly increased numbers of unrepresented litigants. Studies show that the vast majority of people who appear without representation are unable to affordan attorney, and a large percentage of them are low-income people who qualify for legal aid. A growing body of research indicates that outcomes for unrepresented litigants are often less favorable than those for represented litigants.
Twenty Percent of the US Population Deserves Our Thanks This Veterans Day
There are over 23 million living veterans (war and peacetime) and about 37 million dependents of living veterans and survivors of deceased veterans. Together they represent approximately 20% of the US population and they all deserve our thanks for the sacrifices they have made.
Veterans Day Resources:
- President's Veterans Day Proclamation
- US Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Day Resources
- LC's Veterans History Project
Cloud Computing 101Hat tip to Iantha Haight, Research Attorney & Lecturer in Law at Cornell Law Library, for calling attention to CCN's introduction to cloud computing. Check out A trip into the secret, online 'cloud' which includes two videos outlining what cloud computing is and some of the issues users should consider when they rely on companies and their data centers for storing their data "in the cloud." . [JH]
November 10, 2009
New Developments in the Innocence Project Pushback in Illinois
The Circuit Court of Cook County held a hearing today on the state's request for documents from Northwestern's Innocence Project. The state earlier requested copies of interview tapes, transcripts and other witness related materials. It also asked for grades, grading criteria, expenses incurred, syllabus, emails, unpublished memos, notes, interviews conducted off the record and other investigative material.
The reasons for that request have now come out in a filing responding to Northwestern's motion to quash the subpoena. The state contends that one of the key witnesses that gave statements to the student team was paid for that testimony and that the witness used the money to buy crack cocaine. There are other allegations that witnesses may have spoken to each other about whether the student team was willing to pay for statements. The filing contends that the judge overseeing the case has to have all the evidence in the underlying action, including evidence of the student team's "bias, motive and interest."
I suppose the state sees this as just one back and forth in the pursuit of justice rather than mindlessly attempting to uphold a conviction. The evidence is the evidence and always subject to a credibility evaluation by the trier of fact. Does the state have to explain it's bias and motivation in the same case, or is that obvious? Illinois Supreme Court Rule 412 covers disclosure to both sides in a criminal trial. This action is an attempt to reopen a criminal conviction. The state is required to turn over exculpatory information in its possession. The Fifth Amendment, however, limits the state's ability to turn over evidence of culpability from the defense. As for what's not subject to disclosure:
(i) Work Product. Disclosure under this rule and Rule 413 shall not be required of legal research or of records, correspondence, reports or memoranda to the extent that they contain the opinions, theories or conclusions of the State or members of its legal or investigative staffs, or of defense counsel or his staff.
On the other hand, rule 413, which covers disclosure to the prosecution seems to limit the disclosure to what is relevant to the trial. However, subpart (e) broadens the possible materials available to the prosecution:
(e) Additional Disclosure. Upon a showing of materiality, and if the request is reasonable, the court in its discretion may require disclosure to the State of relevant material and information not covered by this rule.
The question now becomes is this underlying "work product" material relevant? The answers would be easier if this was a straight criminal prosecution. The context is muddy because the issues are not directly litigated between the state and a defendant. This has to do with evidence developed by third parties who would like it protected under the Illinois reporter privilege. The state's response to the motion to quash is here. It contains a basic statement of the facts and the procedural posture in the case. The Chicago Tribune has a story on today's hearing. More on this when the judge rules. [MG]