The cost of “free” government data

On February 17th, PacerPro hosted a panelist discussion with Jean O’Grady, head librarian at DLA Piper, Lucy Curci-Gonzalez, executive director at NYLI, Gavin McGrane, CEO and co-founder of PacerPro, and Robert Dessau, CEO and founder of voxgov. Below find an excerpt regarding government data.

Lucy Curci-Gonzalez had just highlighted a major problem in accessing government data on-line: authentication. As Lucy pointed out, there’s a lot of data on-line – but not all data is good data. For example, government agencies don’t always maintain up-to-date copies of regulations on their sites.

Jean O’Grady elaborated on this by introducing a report written by Sarah Glassmeyer titled  The State Legal Information Census: an analysis of primary state legal information.” 

Sara Glassmeyer, Librarian, Lawyer and Information Provocateur published an important new study outlining the substantial shortcomings of “free” digital, legal information in the United States . . .

The next time you are asked why you are paying for commercial research products “since everything a lawyer needs is on the web” — just whip out the Glassmeyer report.

I have long suspected the difficulties and unevenness of free digital resources on the web but I had never seen a systematic analysis of the problem.  Glassmeyer’s report fills the gap and moves the ball from impression to proof.

Jean provides more background on this report on her blog.

What’s the root problem?

Well, money.

As Jean points out:

A lot of people say, oh, commercial vendors are the problem. [But] state and federal agencies don’t have the money to make their information that accessible and that usable. 

Commercial vendors come along and make that information available.

Robert Dessau added:

We meet with law librarians and it’s like, well, it’s all available free. But [“free” government data] is a lot like open source software – it’s some of the most expensive software you can implement.


But will the technology continue to be as expensive as it always has been?

At PacerPro, we don’t think so.

With modern technology and smart business decisions, it’s possible to produce better software for much less than was once possible.

Or as Gavin McGrane, CEO of PacerPro put it,

You don’t need to charge a lot to make a profit in this business. I’m much more interested in moving the practice of law forward.

Listen to the discussion here.


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