Is a uniform system of citation an open-source feature of our legal system’s infrastructure?

In The new (and much improved) ‘Bluebook’ caught in the copyright cross-hairs (The Volokh Conspiracy), David Post writes that “[w]ar is brewing over the most boring piece of intellectual property imaginable: the ‘Bluebook… .’” At issue is the alpha release of NYU Law professor Christopher Sprigman and Carl Malamud’s open-source Baby Blue’s Manual of Legal Citation (Public.Resource.Org, January 1, 2016). From Baby Blue’s Preface:

It is important to understand, when we are talking about “The Bluebook, A Uniform System of Citation,” that we are talking about two different things. There is a product, a spiral-bound booklet that sells for $38.50, which is accompanied by a rudimentary web site available to purchasers of the product.

Underlying that product, however, is something much more basic and fundamental, a uniform system of citation. Unpaid volunteers from a dozen law schools, under the stewardship of four nonprofit student-run law reviews, have labored mightily to reach a consensus standard for the citation of legal materials. This open consensus standard was developed, with no compensation to the authors, for the greater benefit of the legal system of the United States. By clearly and precisely referring to primary legal materials, we are able to communicate our legal reasoning to others, including pleading a case in the courts, advocating changes in legal policy in our legislatures or law reviews, or simply communicating the law to our fellow citizens so that we may be better informed.

We do not begrudge the Harvard Law Review Association one penny of the revenue from the sale of their spiral-bound book dressed in blue. However, we must not confuse the book with the system. There can be no proprietary claim over knowledge and facts, and there is no intellectual property right in the system and method of our legal machinery. The infrastructure of our legal system is a public utility, and belongs to all of us.

Kathryn Rubino’s Controversy At Harvard Law Over The Bluebook? (ATL) summarizes recent developments. — Joe

End Note: Download Sprigman et anon. al., Baby Blue’s Manual of Legal Citation (Public.Resource.Org, 2016).

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