Crowdsourcing and Open Access: Collaborative Techniques for Disseminating Legal Materials and Scholarship
40 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2010 Last revised: 27 Oct 2012
Date Written: March 1, 2010
This short essay surveys the state of open access to primary legal source materials (statutes, judicial opinions and the like) and legal scholarship. The ongoing digitization phenomenon (illustrated, although by no means typified, by massive scanning endeavors such as the Google Books project and the Library of Congress's efforts to digitize United States historical documents) has made a wealth of information, including legal information, freely available online, and a number of open-access collections of legal source materials have been created. Many of these collections, however, suffer from similar flaws: they devote too much effort to collecting case law rather than other authorities, they overemphasize recent works (especially those originally created in digital form), they do not adequately hyperlink between related documents in the collection, their citator functions are haphazard and rudimentary, and they do not enable easy user authentication against official reference sources.
The essay explores whether some of these problems might be alleviated by enlarging the pool of contributors who are working to bring paper records into the digital era. The same "peer production" process that has allowed far-flung communities of volunteers to build large-scale informational goods like the Wikipedia encyclopedia or the Linux operating system might be harnessed to build a digital library. The essay critically reviews two projects that have sought to "crowdsource" proofreading and archiving of texts: Distributed Proofreaders, a project frequently held up as a model in the academic literature on peer production; and Wikisource, a sister site of Wikipedia that improves on Distributed Proofreaders in a number of ways. The essay concludes by offering a few illustrations meant to show the potential for using Wikisource as an open-access repository for primary source materials and scholarship, and considers some possible drawbacks of the crowdsourced approach.
Keywords: Open Access, Peer Production, Crowdsourcing, Online Communities, Distributed Proofreaders, Wikipedia, Wikisource
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