November 4, 2010
Library Journal Interview with Carl Malamud on LAW.GOV
Debbie Rabina, Associate Professor at the Pratt Institute School of Information & Library Science and Depository Library Council member recently interviewed Carl Malamud for Library Journal. A snip:
Debbie Rabina: What kind of solutions do you see? Is this just a question of changing the law?
Carl Malamud: The whole Law.Gov movement is evolving—we did workshops in over 15 locations around the country at the beginning of this year, including many of the top law schools in the country, like Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, and Yale. The point of that exercise was to explore the proposition that if a material is to be considered primary legal material, it would have the force of law issued by a governmental body or somehow blessed by a governmental body as being a law of general applicability, and by that we mean Congressional hearings, as well as the laws, because you need the hearings in order to interpret the intent.
Maybe 100 years ago saying any college kid ought to be able to download the entire corpus of the canon of American law, maybe that would have been unreasonable, but in today’s Internet world, it isn’t unreasonable—it’s important that we provide that level of access. So Law.Gov is all about what it would take to institute this principle into the public policy framework at the local, state, and federal levels across all three branches, that if it’s a law, it must be available and must be available in a somewhat clueful manner. It should have metadata, document IDs, and proper format, and privacy should be protected—all the things that we associate with modern electronic data streaming.
Access to the law in particular in the United States is a $10 billion a year industry, and it’s a very inequitable system in which government lawyers and solo practitioners and a lot of different groups don’t have the same access to the legal materials that those who are more well heeled have. And it’s a huge issue for innovation—it means that a young start-up can’t really get into the business of providing a better kind of legal information or even more general information—but it’s also a problem of justice and democracy.
There are instances in which government ought to be able to produce things, and perhaps they’re not broadly available or there are restrictions on use, although I tend not to favor those arrangements. But when it comes to things that have the force of law, which is one of the prime areas where we subcontracted out the kind of official reporting of the court relationship or other relationships, then that’s a huge problem. It’s certainly contrary to Supreme Court and other public policy pronouncements, ones that go back to the founding of the republic.
Read the complete Nov. 1, 2010 LJ interview here. [JH]