Do Not Pass Go, Go to Print

By , October 4, 2012 2:32 pm

by Philippe Cloutier 

The United States of America maintains the highest GDP at $15.09 trillion (and we’ve put people on the moon); yet the website for the hallowed United States Code still proclaims:

While every effort has been made to ensure that the Code database on the website is accurate, those using it for legal research should verify their results against the printed version of the United States Code available through the Government Printing Office.”

I am continually shocked by the USC’s refer to the print motto: first in library school, then in my first professional library job, and now in the present moment. While it is hard to imagine that any discrepancies exist betwixt the print and online editions, the caveat does not guarantee the online’s verisimilitude. The USC beta website details the issue further (averting liability):

The online versions are produced from the same database used to prepare the printed versions. However, the online versions must go through a separate electronic conversion. This electronic conversion is believed to be generally reliable, but occasionally errors can occur, particularly with unusual text such as mathematical formulas. Moreover, although the OLRC meticulously proofreads all material for the printed versions, it cannot divert its resources to proofreading the online versions. See the Disclaimer below.

Disclaimer

While every effort has been made to ensure that the Code database on the website is accurate, those using it for legal research should verify their results against the printed version of the Code available through the GPO Bookstore.

Electronic conversion can lead to textual errors, nothing to gain in refuting the obvious.  However, even more obvious, would be to offer official PDF versions that can be read alongside or checked with the electronically converted product. One would assume that GPO PDF versions of the code are 100% safe for consumption; unfortunately this isn’t the case and the same disclaimer exists.

Perhaps I’m yelling needlessly across one of many chasms, leading me to something more significant: online primary legal resources that are free, of sound quality, and reliable. To a greater extent, raising the conversation is Brandon S. Biagioli, intern at CALI, posting : ONLINE PUBLIC ACCESS TO PRIMARY LAW: THE TIME HAS ARRIVED. Biagiolio offers salient goals and viewpoints on which the USA should have been focused years ago. It isn’t just the USC at fault but a range of Federal/State/Local materials and cases remaining unavailable and unverifiable.

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