Why Is My Court Case on the Internet?

NOTE WELL! We can only respond to copies of court cases on the resource.org servers. Those are the only computers we can control. If your court case is on a government web site or on another computer that is not part of resource.org, we cannot help you. This page is only applicable to the resource.org computers. Thank you.

Purpose and Scope of This Page

This policy describes why Public.Resource.Org, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is putting court cases on the Internet and what you can do if you object to seeing your case show up on search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.

Court Cases Are Public Records

If a case is heard by the Supreme Court of the United States, no one would argue that the opinion should not be published and viewable by all. The decisions of the Supreme Court are the law of the land, and all citizens must be able to read their decisions.

In the United States, the decisions of the courts, from the Supreme Court on down to lowest municipal court, have always been available on high-priced commercial services such as West Law and Lexis Nexis. These services—a “rich man's Google”—have always been available to those with the financial resources to pay hundreds of dollars per hour. The decisions of our courts have never been secret, they have just been locked up behind a cash register.

We Are All Hurt When the Law is Not Public

America is a nation of laws, and all citizens are presumed to know the law of the land. The high-priced services have not been available to citizens that wish to read court decisions, but those decisions have also been out of the reach of many working lawyers: many government lawyers, public interest lawyers, and small-town law practices cannot afford and do not have access to the databases they need to do their job.

There is a compelling public interest in making the law broadly available to all. The decisions of the courts are the rules of our society.

Why Did My Name Suddenly Come Up In Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft After All These Years?

Most courts today are publishing their opinions on the Internet. If you search for a current court case from a Court of Appeals or a Supreme Court of the States or the U.S., you will find that case on the Internet directly from the courts. Many other services in universities and for lawyers also have those cases.

But, the archive of Court of Appeals decisions have not been available. Public.Resource.Org obtained a 50-year archive of these decisions and have put them on the Internet at bulk.resource.org. The decisions are downloaded from us to legal information services in universities and in companies that serve lawyers. We are also collecting court cases from the states, and from the District Courts, in cooperation with a growing movement of "free law" groups around the country.

Our computer is searched, just like every other web server on the Internet, by search services such as Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft, and that information becomes available when people conduct searches.

Will You Remove a Court Case?

Public records are just that: information that needs to be available to the public. We will not remove any public documents without a court order. Remember, there are many, many copies of these court decisions in existence, and Public.Resource.Org has just one of those many copies. If you want information deleted, your only recourse is with the courts that issued the opinion. You should contact the court directly or hire an attorney to do so for you.

Can You At Least Remove It From Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft?

Yes, but only partly. If you send us a written request, we will tell search engines not to index the file on our servers, using a mechanism known as the robots.txt file. That means that, after a while, the copy of your case on our bulk.resource.org server would not show up on Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft.

But, remember, many places have copies of these decisions from many different sources. So, even though the case will not show up on the search engine FROM OUR SERVER at bulk.resource.org, it is likely to show up from many other places, and we have no control over those other organizations.

To have a case listed in our robots.txt file so it is not indexed by search engines, please send your written request to:

1005 Gravenstein Highway North
Sebastopol, CA 95472

We do not guarantee acceptance of these requests by email since we cannot guarantee that our system will not filter your email out as spam.

Will This Be Permanent?

We might change this policy in the future and make no guarantees that we will keep this robots.txt file in place indefinitely. As explained above, court opinions are public records and without a court order, we will not remove cases.

Public.Resource.Org is continually evaluating the privacy implications of releasing public records to a broader audience. We feel the courts have a responsibility to address this issue squarely, but even if they do not address the issue, we must. Your comments and feedback on our policy are welcome. Please contact us at carl [at] media [dot] org with your comments.