I was trolling through my blawg feeds and came across this post on Lexblog with the title "LexisNexis to fight free legal information movement?". The post looks at a recent initiative by a group of major science journals to fight the free information movement which aims to make scientific knowledge available for free either under a form of Creative Commons or pseudo-Creative Commons licensing scheme or in the public domain.
This is a topic which interests me a great deal. I have had a plan to develop a body of open legal content for the benefit of anyone who has access to a web browser. Simply making use of tools that are available to us all on the Web, it is possible to develop a tremendously comprehensive and valuable body of legal content that could rival the content the legal publishers sell at a pretty high price. Another issue is that the content published by the legal publishers may not be all that relevant to lay people. Much of this content is written for the legal fraternity.
A free and user generated body of legal content could go a long way towards bringing the law down to the people who need it most. I’m not just talking about the man and woman in the street but also about small and medium sized businesses who often can’t afford legal services. Such a body of legal content could have a pretty big impact on the legal publishing industry in South Africa (and globally if it spreads). If you take a fairly radical view, an open legal content movement could effectively shut down large and profitable portions of the legal publishing business. It will depend on the involvement of the legal community in such a project. I have been chatting to a few people about it and the more we talk about it the more I believe it could become a form of discontinuity that totally disrupts the status quo.
What do you think? Could this be the beginning of the end for legal publishers or just something different? Will the publishers take aim or will they be shot down?