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Another "If You Can't Beat Them . . ." Story

Being relatively new to the field of law librarianship, one thing I like to do, whenever I get the chance, is read older (i.e., before I entered the field) articles in journals, both law library-related and just law-related. It can be very rewarding to see how certain issues or positions have developed, or even discover that people 10, 20, or even more years ago were struggling with the same issues and had the same complaints we do today. It can also be very amusing to read older discussions about technology in these journals and compare them with where we are now. Personally, I started with Frank Houdek's wonderful piece "The Essential Law Library Journal" (100 Law Libr. J. 137 (2008)), and I've been working through the articles he lists, with some tangents along the way.

One of my tangents led me to "The Final Report of the Task Force on Citation Formats," which was published at 87 Law Libr. J. 577-633 in 1995. Although the Report itself was very enlightening, the dissents were by far much more entertaining. Sitting, as we are, in 2011 and looking back in time 16 years, with all of the technological advancements and changes in research habits and philosophies that accompany them, it's very easy to read the dissents and laugh at their fearmongering.

Now, I'm sure the authors of the dissents were truly concerned for the future of legal research, and I appreciate their participation in this great, ongoing debate. Some of the points they raised were probably legitimate at the time, but have since fallen by the way-side or been greatly diminished in force. For example, while it may have been true in the mid-1990s that the vast majority of attorneys did their caselaw research primarily, if not exclusively, in books (p. 609), I would be very surprised if that remains true today (for better or worse).

My favorite part of the dissenting opinions appears in the dissent written by the two members of the AALL Task Force who were employees of West Publishing (pp. 607-23). Again, they did make some valid points, and I don't mean to belittle their contribution to the debate.

However, the authors of this dissent, in a footnote, discuss a bill, H.R. 4426, that was introduced in 1992 that would have, inter alia, explicitly excluded "copyright protection for any name, number, or citation by which the text of state or federal laws or regulations are identified, or for any volume or page number by which state or federal laws, regulations, judicial opinions, or portions thereof have been identified" (p. 611 n.16). The authors then gleefully point out that, although AALL supported the bill, some prominent members of the AALL community were against it. The authors explain, with approval, that this opposition was because the bill was nothing more than "special interest legislation sponsored by [a] foreign-owned [company]" that "intended to scan pages from the National Reporter System and resell it on CD-ROM". The result, it was argued, would be either that West would be forced to charge more for their reporters or that the NRS would die; either way, "[t]his ill-advised foreign-sponsored legislation," if passed, would be "a great disservice to library patrons."

See . . . West was looking out for all of us poor law libraries. They're on our side.

Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. That "foreign-owned" company that wanted to destroy the legal publishing world with its "special interest legislation"?:

Thomson Legal Publishing.


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