– Court Documents at Your Fingertips

For some, obtaining court documents is a very elusive thing. Usually when a landmark decision is handed down, many rely on media coverage and press releases to get as much of the story as possible. All that is changing with a new service called AltLaw.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

AltLaw is much like the Google of court rulings and documents. Now, anyone can search for and read important cases such as the landmark decision of the MGM vs. Grokster case of 2005. This is a tool for American only court decisions.

“The law is meant to belong to the people, but it can be surprisingly hard to find. Case reports, a major part of the laws of the United States, are hard to get at, and even when on the Internet, rarely searchable.” AltLaw explained on their about page. “To get full access you generally need either a library of law reports, or an expensive subscription to an online database, which can cost hundreds of dollars per hour.”

“AltLaw is a small effort to change that – to make the common law a bit more common. AltLaw provides the first free, full-text searchable database of Supreme Court and Federal Appellate case reports. It is a resource for attorneys, legal scholars, and the general public.”

AltLaw further states that it catalogs, among other things, full “…text search of the last decade or so of federal appellate and Supreme Court opinions.”

Like many new services and software posted online, it’s still in beta form. Some aspects such as an advanced search feature are still a “work in progress”. All the documents posted on AltLaw are released into the public domain.

As mentioned before, one could find a case such as the MGM vs. Grokster case. Simply go to their main webpage and type in the case. The results show two cases related to the search. Those results are currently “BMG Music v. Gonzalez, Cecilia” and “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd.” The second result, of course, is what most people are looking for. Simply click on the link and you are presented with a long page of the Supreme Court’s ruling which includes the following text, “The Court, in using the key word ‘substantial,’ indicated that these circumstances alone constituted a sufficient basis for rejecting the imposition of secondary liability.”

If the text is too small or the current format is unbearable for any reason, AltLaw is offering the entire decision in plain text (txt format) or in PDF format. With this kind of simplicity, perhaps time and patience will be the only barriers to investigating cases in many circumstances. Of course, a lawyer’s job isn’t being taken over since their job is to understand the law and to help make sense of the issues. Still, this new development could easily assist anyone who wants to research a particular case in the last 15 years.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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