Please help me! How should PACER be funded?

For those of you, like me, who are huge supporters of PACER, the sister system CM/ECF, and the issue of transparency more generally, please read Brian Browdie’s great article entitled Why Pacer should (and should not) be like Edgar, Quartz (November 24, 2014).*  Transparency advocates want PACER access to be free. But there is a problem (nothing is “free”), and I want your help in addressing that problem.

First, you need to know the basics. Here they are:

* “Pacer holds records for roughly 43 million cases, according to the Administrative Office of the US Courts, which manages the database.”

* “In practice, Pacer’s fee structure means that three-quarters of people who use the database pay nothing.”

* “Pacer has about 1.6 million user accounts, but most of the 500 million requests the database receives annually come from law firms; commercial publishers such as Reed Elsevier, Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters; and the Department of Justice (DoJ). These and other power users accounted for about 70% of Pacer’s $146 million in revenue in the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30, 2013, according to the Administrative Office.”

*  “As the chart[s] below shows, [the revenue is] used to cover outlays for the filing system, CM/ECF ($32.1 million); video monitors, audio and other electronica that courts need to stage trials in the 21st century ($31.5 million); and the telecommunications, broadband internet and security systems that allow access to 197 databases around the country but keep hackers at bay ($27.5 million).”





Second, what I would like to know from you is this: Assuming public access to these records is a public good that should come as close as possible to being “free” to the general public and perhaps academics, how would you propose that PACER be funded (a) assuming the federal judiciary must maintain roughly the same revenue stream from PACER that it receives now and (b) assuming that Congress will not fund PACER (or the judiciary’s related revenue stream) from appropriated funds?


Trust me–don’t quibble with the “a” and “b” assumptions built into the question. They are real life constraints.

I look forward to your answers while simultaneously wishing you a happy Thanksgiving.


*H/t How Appealing.

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