PACER is the online access portal for “U.S. Appellate, District, and Bankruptcy court records and documents nationwide”. Because the documents it provides are created by the federal judiciary, they are not copyrightable; because PACER is the only place to obtain these records, it is a critical link to those who need case information. PACER also charges a per-page fee ($0.08 per page up to 30 pages in a specific document) for access.
RECAP (which is PACER spelled backwards) is a new, open source Firefox extension which appears to follow all the rules: you access documents through PACER, paying all assessed fees, and you get your docuements. RECAP, however adds two elements to the mix:
- RECAP automatically uploads any document that is accessed by users of the extension to a public repository hosted by the Internet Archive.
- RECAP will alert the user when a document they wish to access is available through the public repository.
On the surface, it may appear that people are conducting an end-run against the court’s system for providing documents. However, a broader view strongly suggests that these documents are public, and that the PACER system is actually an exception in the realm of access to public records.
The Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government provide documents free to the user; this is an attempt to make the workings and decisions of the judiciary as public as the other branches. RECAP is a fully legal means to provide information in a way that is the spirit of the law.