Bill to tear down federal courts’ paywall gains momentum in Congress

Enlarge / Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) disagree about many issues, but they both support the Open Courts Act. (credit: KEVIN DIETSCH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved the Open Courts Act—legislation to overhaul PACER, the federal courts’ system for accessing public documents. The proposal would guarantee free public access to judicial documents, ending the current practice of charging 10 cents per page for many documents—as well as search results.
The bill must still be passed by the full House and the Senate and signed by the president. With Election Day just seven weeks away, the act is unlikely to become law during this session of Congress.

Still, the vote is significant because it indicates the breadth of Congressional support for tearing down the PACER paywall. The legislation is co-sponsored by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), whose bill we covered in 2018,

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Launching the RECAP API

List of interested parties to contact:
Sai –
Gavin Sheridan – and Jose Alberto
David Donet Sr –
Ian Francis –
Kyle and ALex
Michael Shurtleff –
Mark Deming –
Reed Jessen – (interested in bi-directional API in May/June for use with Unified Patents)
Surya Mattu – Guy I met at the Knight Foundation thing, now works for Gizmodo. Is building a PACER awareness bot for their slack channel. Only interested in the API once it can scrape new stuff.
Matt Channon – building some kind of iOS tool called Habeas.
David Gribbin ( – kind of a random person that emailed. Gathering more info…
Nikolaos Tsoukas – Interested I guess from research perspective. See email.
David Kellum – Has some platform for helping journalists. Interested in RECAP Archive and Clearinghouse, but may not want to pay…not clear. Currently is scraping PACER RSS feeds.
Nirav Patel ( – Wants to use data to market to bankrupt people. Not ideal, but, hm.
Jonathan Edward Germann ( – Wants PACER

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Uploading PACER Dockets and Oral Argument Recordings to the Internet Archive

We have begun uploading six million PACER dockets to the Internet Archive. Docket uploads will be completed quarterly going forward.

Our collection of oral argument recordings now supports all circuit courts and the Supreme Court. Previously, due to inaccesibility, it lacked the 10th and 11th Circuits.

We have uploaded more than 40 thousand oral argument recordings consisting of over one thousand days of audio to the Internet Archive. New oral argument recordings will be uploaded nightly.

At Free Law Project, we collect a lot of legal information. In our RECAP initiative, we collect (or are donated) around one hundred thousand items from PACER every day. Separately, in our collection of oral argument recordings, we have gathered more than 1.4 million minutes of legal recordings — more than anywhere else on the web. All of this content comes from a variety of sources, and we merge it all together to make a searchable collection

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Announcing PACER Docket Alerts for Journalists, Lawyers, Researchers, and the Public

Make Alerts Now

Today we are thrilled to announce the general availability of PACER Docket Alerts on Once enabled, a docket alert will send you an email whenever there is a new filing in a case in PACER. We started CourtListener in 2010 as a circuit court monitoring tool, and we could not be more excited to continue expanding on those roots with this powerful new tool.
The best way to get started with Docket Alerts is to just make one. Try loading a popular case like U.S. v. Manafort or The District of Columbia v. Trump. Once the case is open, just press the “Get Alerts” button near the top. Then, just wait for your first alert.

We believe PACER Docket Alerts will be a valuable resource to journalists, researchers, lawyers, and the public as they grapple with staying up to date with the latest PACER filings.
Our goal with docket alerts is to

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Lawsuit accuses PACER of overcharging for document downloads, misusing budget surplus

filestackFor digital document fans, the government’s PACER legal document retrieval system has long been a bone of contention. It charges ten cents per page for document retrieval, which can run into a considerable degree of expense when it comes to documents dozens of pages long—you basically have to pay to download it even to read enough of it know if it’s the document you actually want. (The fee is capped at $3 per single document but that can still run into significant sums.) As I noted a couple of years ago, I ran up $41 in PACER charges just while covering a story for TeleRead.

Ars Technica has a story about a class action lawsuit brought by three nonprofits against PACER, claiming that the proceeds of all those document payments are being misappropriated. PACER is authorized by law to charge fees necessary “to reimburse expenses in providing these services,” but the suit holds that millions of dollars in PACER proceeds have been used to pay for other projects instead. As it turns out, PACER was bringing in much more money than it needed.

“Rather than reduce the fees to cover only the costs incurred, the AO instead decided to use the extra revenue to subsidize other information-technology-related projects—a mission creep that only grew worse over time,” the suit (PDF) claims. Citing government records, the suit says that by the end of 2006, the judiciary’s information-technology fund had accumulated a surplus of $150 million with $32 million from PACER fees [PDF]. When fees were increased to 10 cents a page in 2012, the amount of income from PACER increased to $145 million, “much of which was earmarked for other purposes such as courtroom technology, websites for jurors, and bankruptcy notification systems,” according to the suit.

PACER also declined to provide a four-month fee exemption to journalists who needed to check the records to run an analysis of how effective certain legal software was. Effectively, PACER comes off as fairly greedy given how simple digital documents are to store and retrieve.

That’s why the late Aaron Swartz helped develop an alternate document retrieval system called RECAP, which automatically uploads pages downloaded from PACER to its servers so people can read them for free thereafter. It saves a lot of people a lot of money, but can only be updated one document at a time as PACER users pay to download them.

If PACER is making so much money that it’s able to run at a surplus, it seems that its retrieval fees should be cut back to something more reasonable. There’s no reason citizens should need to pay inflated rates to retrieve documents that are legally in the public domain.

The post Lawsuit accuses PACER of overcharging for document downloads, misusing budget surplus appeared first on TeleRead News: E-books, publishing, tech and beyond.

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