It doesn't seem fair that you should have to buy data that you, as a taxpayer, already paid to create, right? Over at Ars Technica, Reason contributor Timothy B. Lee writes about efforts by geek patriots to steal back what is rightfully ours:
Last year, RSS pioneer Aaron Swartz and open government activist Carl Malamud took matters into their own hands. The courts had launched a pilot program that gave free [federal court records web system] PACER access to patrons of selected libraries, so Swartz and Malamud went to the libraries with thumb drives and used a Perl script to download as many documents as they could. They got about 20 million documents before the courts abruptly canceled the trial. The documents—about 700 GB in total—are now available from Malamud's website, but there are still terabytes of public documents locked behind PACER's paywall.
But is it legal to steal documents from the courts' online system? Well, technically, the records cost 8 cents a page when downloaded. But,
To ensure broad public access, the courts have long held that court records are not subject to copyright. That means that once a user has obtained a court document, he is generally free to redistribute it without payment. But until the rise of the Internet, practical barriers limited the dissemination of legal records. Courts produce millions of pages of documents every year, and it would have been impractical to distribute paper copies of every document to public libraries. In principle, anyone could have physically driven down to a courthouse and asked to see copies of court records, but practically speaking only practicing lawyers and a handful of sophisticated journalists and academics knew how to navigate this system successfully.