05 July 2010

Welcome to Open Source Law

Since, as Larry Lessig famously pointed out, "code is law" (and vice versa), it's natural to try to apply open source methodologies in the legal world. Indeed, a site called Openlaw existed ten years ago:

Openlaw is an experiment in crafting legal argument in an open forum. With your assistance, we will develop arguments, draft pleadings, and edit briefs in public, online. Non-lawyers and lawyers alike are invited to join the process by adding thoughts to the "brainstorm" outlines, drafting and commenting on drafts in progress, and suggesting reference sources.

Building on the model of open source software, we are working from the hypothesis that an open development process best harnesses the distributed resources of the Internet community. By using the Internet, we hope to enable the public interest to speak as loudly as the interests of corporations. Openlaw is therefore a large project built through the coordinated effort of many small (and not so small) contributions.

Despite this long pedigree, open source law never really took off - until now. As this important post points out:

The case of British Chiropractic Association v Simon Singh was perhaps the first major English case to be litigated under the full glare of the internet. This did not just mean that people merely followed the case’s progress on blogs and messageboards: the role of the internet was more far-reaching than this


The technical evidence of a claimant in a controversial case had simply been demolished - and seen to be demolished - but not by the conventional means of ­contrary expert evidence and expensive forensic cross-examination, but by specialist bloggers. And there is no reason why such specialist bloggers would not do the same in a similar case.

The key thing is that those bloggers need to be engaged by the case - this isn't going to happen for run-of-the-mill litigation. But that's OK: it means that when something important is at stake - as in the Singh case - and their help is most needed, they *will* be engaged, and that wonderful digital kraken will stir again.

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Matija "hook" Ċ uklje said...

Interesting post and surely something to think about.

But although in general I think this might be a nice idea, there's two things I'd like to point out:
1) Code is *not* law (and thank god(s) for that!).
2) By having such p2p view on experts you might accumulate the same problem as with peer reviews and by trusting just anyone on the net (think mass FUD). Even if we can't tell for sure if that'd be an step back or a step forward from status quo, it's still something worth keeping in mind.

Glyn Moody said...

@Matija: you're right there are differences, and that we cannot blindly trust people participating. But as the Singh case demonstrated, it can be done, and done well.