A new Web tool developed at Princeton has expanded free access to federal court documents. RECAP, a plug-in for the Firefox Web browser, works in concert with PACER, the court system’s paid-access repository, most frequently used by lawyers. When a user buys a document from PACER, RECAP automatically “donates” a copy to a free public database. The plug-in also tells users which documents are available for free.

Computer science doctoral student Harlan Yu, one of RECAP’s developers, explained in a blog post that sharing the documents is legal because copyright law “expressly places government works in the public domain.”  

The application, released Aug. 14, drew rave reviews from open-government proponents. Foreign Policy’s Evgeny Morozov called RECAP “smart (and subversive!),” and Katherine Mangu-Ward noted in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that the searchable RECAP database is more user-friendly than PACER.