Harvard, let everyone have access to the Bluebook!


Rogue archivist Carl Malamud sez,

One of the most important books in the U.S. legal profession is known as the Bluebook®: A Uniform System of Legal Citation®. The Bluebook® has all the rules about how you talk about law: the proper way to cite sources and format footnotes in legal briefs, law journal articles, and any other legal document. The rules are highly specific, and many courts explicitly require that any brief submitted must conform to the rules.

What is strange about the Bluebook® is that it is owned by a consortium of four rich law schools (Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Penn) and they keep a really tight grip on it. Every law student has to pay the $30 Blue Tax for their copy. Even worse, if you want to embed the rules in a style language to help lawyers do footnotes better, or any other innovative tool for the legal profession, you would need permission from the Blue People and that permission is simply denied.

This is dumb and it is not fair. Lots of prominent lawyers, such as Judge Richard Posner, have long sang the Bluebook® Blues, but to no avail. In order to force the issue, Public.Resource.Org bought a paper copy, scanned it in, sent the scan to India to be retyped, then produced a nice HTML version of the entire text. We threw that on a George Washington Thumb Drive along with developer files in .json format and sent a letter to Dean Martha L. Minow of the Harvard Law School. We also sent copies of the same letter to 8 members of the Harvard Law School Faculty, including Professors Lessig, Benkler, and Zittrain.

Our ask is simple: think about whether this is right or not. Our suggestion is that they appoint a Blue Ribbon Commission on the Bluebook® to cut through the red tape. Or, they can just hand our letter over to the law reviews that control the roughly $2m in excess profits and tell them to deal with this anachronistic situation and come up with something more suitable to the Internet era.

I'm a huge admirer of the Harvard Law School and their faculty do totally amazing work to make our country better. They're good people and wonderful teachers. The Bluebook® is a little thing, but it is important to lawyers all over the world. I'm hoping they do something about it.

Links: Read the letter, a redacted version of the Bluebook®, and developer files.

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