Legal information institutes and the free access to law movement

26 May 2008

This article surveys the group of free access providers of legal information known as 'the Legal Information Institutes' ('LII's) or 'the Free Access to Law Movement'. It is not therefore about free access to law generally, but rather about a particular group of its providers who collaborate.

Since the mid-1990s the Internet's World-Wide-Web has provided the necessary technical platform to enable free access to computerised legal information. Prior to the web there were many online legal information systems and numerous legal information products distributed on CD-ROM, but there was no significant provision of free access to legal information anywhere in the world. Both government and private sector online legal publishers charged for access. The web provided the key element required for free public access - a low cost distribution mechanism. For publishers it was close to a 'no cost' distribution mechanism if they were not required to pay for outgoing bandwidth. The ease of use of graphical browsers from around 1994, and the web's use of hypertext as its principal access mechanism (at that time) meant that the web provided a simple and relatively consistent means by which legal information could be both provided and accessed, an attractive alternative to the proprietary, expensive and training-intensive search engines on which commercial online services largely relied. The development of free access Internet law services was based on these factors.

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