possible to do a search over a few
fields, rather than over the full-text
of all of the available documents—a
stark contrast to what’s possible on
modern Web search engines. Indeed,
because of PACER’s walled-garden approach, search engines are unable to
crawl its contents. The interface also
relies heavily on legal jargon, making
it difficult to figure out where and how
to search (see Figure 1).
But the biggest problem with PAC-
ER by far is its pay-for-access model.
The Courts charge PACER users a fee of
eight cents per page to access records
(see Figure 2). This means searches
will cost eight cents for every 4320
bytes of results—one “page” of infor-
mation according to PACER’s policy.
Obtaining a docket that lists all the
documents in a case can cost the user
a couple of dollars. To download a spe-
cific document, for example a 30-page
PDF brief, the user would be charged
another $2.40 for the privilege. Each
individual charge may seem small, but
the cost incurred by using PACER for
any substantial purpose racks up very
quickly. Repeated searching using the
limited interface can become particu-
Figure 1. The PACER search interface for the Southern District of New York.
LIBERATING COUR T RECORDS
Because everything in PACER is part
of the public record, users can legally
share their document purchases freely
once they have been legitimately acquired. Recognizing this possibility,
we created a Firefox extension called
RECAP—to “turn PACER around” [ 3].
RECAP crowdsources the purchase of
the PACER repository by helping users
automatically share their purchases.
The extension provides two primary
functions (see Figure 3).
First, whenever a user purchases a
document from PACER, the extension
will automatically upload a copy of the
document to our central repository
hosted by the Internet Archive, where
it will be indexed and saved. This effectively liberates that document from
behind the PACER pay wall.
Second, RECAP helps PACER users
save money by notifying them whenever documents are available from the
shared central repository. Whenever a
user pulls up a docket listing, the extension will query the central RECAP
database to check whether any of the
listed documents are already in our repository. If so, the extension will inject
a small RECAP link next to the PACER
link to indicate that the user can download the document for free from our
repository, rather than buying it again
from PACER (see Figure 4).