free legal sources

The writer is the founder of JurisOpen.org – an online platform dedicated to the publishing, sharing and archiving of authentic & reliable secondary legal materials with open accessibility.

When Elsevier acquired SSRN in May last year, I was prompted to read the announcement on my Facebook Newsfeed. The deal had speculations flooding the Internet over its adverse implications on the free and open sharing of scholarly research despite Elsevier’s commitment to continue the freemium business model of SSRN (free to submit, free to download) – after all it was hard to trust the RELX Group (of which Elsevier is a part) with its notorious past of engaging in everything that had only been anti-open access.

While SSRN’s decision to shake hands with the devil was unsettling for many, I was more intrigued by SSRN’s failure to gather enough capital investments for it to run autonomously. This curiosity on my part was not borne out of my dispelling of investors’ sentiments over the future of SSRN – my Economics could not have allowed me to do so, but rather my sheer interest in a personal project that I had been working on for some time.

This project of mine was also in part motivated from the need for free access to knowledge and data that had led to the creation of SSRN long back in 1994. SSRN then succumbing to the publishing giant after over two decades of its presumable success really showed me the path I was headed. In utter restlessness to gain optimism over my own vision, I began articulating the aspects of my project which substantially differentiated it from SSRN – for instance, I realized that SSRN was largely a preprint repository (i.e. it contained mostly non-referred publications), whereas my project had originally been conceived to allow only refereed publishing and sharing of legal research in order for it to be credibly cited by its readers in their own research and discourses. This in many ways also reinforced the utility of my findings on how researchers were forced to rely primarily on paid legal resources whether for the purposes of academic referencing or citation in court documents and how free legal websites were yet struggling to be relevant in the legal information market for want of “citable” content.

By then I knew that my project would be an attempt to create a free and reliable alternative (and not merely a supplement) to the highly priced avenues of citable scholarship.

With this ambitious proposition, I began writing to scholars soliciting their engagement with my humble project which at the time had yet only me as the sole team member. To my surprise, within weeks I started receiving responses welcoming the initiative and I knew that I should start taking it more seriously. I did, and soon I had a handsome group of people sharing my zeal and commitment to build an online repository of authentic & reliable secondary legal materials from where people could cite for free.

Today, we have a publishing model for authors who want their research to be read and valued by everyone – we allow all authors to retain copyright over their work without compromising their right to refereed publishing and sharing on our platform for which we do not charge any publication fee. In the coming days, we intend to mobilize more and more people into joining our platform and contributing to the project under various modalities of engagement. Where the online legal information service remains dominated by a handful of corporates, who are always on the search to turn a profit in whatever they venture into, we are singularly committed to ensuring the authenticity & reliability of free legal information for not only making quality legal information widely accessible to the public but also for significantly minimizing the overall cost of legal research.

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