If you’re like me, you’re deeply frustrated with PACER, the United States court system’s electronic records service, particularly with its 8-cent-a-page fees. These records are a key component of what Carl Malamud calls “America’s Operating System.” Behind PACER’s paywall are the court decisions that make up “the law” and all of the filings and motions that are our judicial system in action. The fees deter public access, making it harder to know what our courts are doing, alienating Americans from their government.
Well, meet RECAP (that’s “PACER” spelled backwards, although the logo shows a vertical reflection), a new Firefox extension from the wonderful folks at Princeton’s CITP. RECAP is a beautifully clever piece of crowdsourced archiving. Once you install it, it tags along every time you log in to PACER. Download a document, and RECAP ships a copy off to the Internet Archive. When you go to PACER to look up documents, RECAP checks the Internet Archive’s collection and offers to give you a free copy if someone else has already uploaded it.
The great part about this is that because the Archive is providing the server space for free, every RECAP user is saving the court system work. Each time you download through RECAP, you avoid having to go through PACER’s servers at all. So yes, RECAP will mean a decrease in PACER’s revenues, but it also means a decrease in the things those revenues need to pay for. It’s an all-around good thing. It saves attorneys, researchers, and citizens money. It saves the government computer resources. And it makes the law just a little bit more free and accessible.
If you use PACER at all, even occasionally, you should install RECAP today.