Monday, August 17, 2009

PACER Has Been Hacked

We just saw this morning that folks at Princeton, Harvard, and the Internet Archive have created and released a new computer program that hacks PACER, the system for retrieving federal court opinions.

Apparently, this new program has a database with many opinions pre-loaded into it, and others will be added as folks download more decisions from PACER. When a user searches PACER, the program automatically provides a free copy of the decision (if the program has it available in its database), instead of the copy from PACER, and thus saves the user PACER's fee. Eventually, virtually everything in the PACER system will be available for free in RECAP.

In the words of the blog, the "solution" to the problem of paying for opinions is

"RECAP, a Firefox-only plugin, that rides along as one usually uses PACER — but it automatically checks if the document you want is already in its own database. The plug-in’s tagline, ‘Turning PACER around,’ alludes to the fact that its name comes from spelling PACER backwards. RECAP’s database is being seeded with millions of bankruptcy and Federal District Court documents, which have been donated, bought or gotten for free by open-government advocate Carl Malamud and fellow travelers such as Justia."

Here's a link to Threat Level, which posted this news on Friday.

1 comment:

Timothy B. Lee said...

Thanks for the link! Just to make sure there's no misunderstanding, no "hacking" was involved, at least in the mainstream sense of that term. RECAP is voluntarily installed by PACER users, and RECAP users pay for all the documents they download just like any other PACER users. The only difference is that we give users the option to directly share documents with one another, something they're generally free to do under copyright law.