"Nota Bene" means "note this well" or "take particular notice." We at the O'Quinn Law Library will be posting tips on legal research techniques and resources, developments in the world of legal information, happenings at the Law Library, and legal news reports that deserve your particular attention. We look forward to sharing our thoughts and findings and to hearing from you.

N.B: Make a note to visit "Nota Bene" regularly.

-Spencer L. Simons, former Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Legal Research AI Gains Venture Capital


The legal research company Casetext has announced that it has acquired $12 million in venture capital to expand on its CARA ("Case Analysis Research Assistant") AI software, a virtual research assistant currently capable of scanning a legal brief and retrieving cases relevant to but not cited in the brief.

CARA is not alone in the world of legal AIs.  When it was created last year, it joined the ranks of AIs including ROSS, an IBM Watson-based legal research AI, DoNotPay, a website founded in 2015 to automate the preparation of parking ticket appeals, and an amateur AI judge capable of predicting European Court of Human Rights decisions with 79% accuracy.
 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

New Database of Registered Foreign Agents


The Center for Responsive Politics recently launched a new research tool called Foreign Lobby Watch. It provides a searchable database of organizations and individuals registered under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA), a federal law enacted in 1938 in response to German propaganda efforts in the United States. You may have read about this law in the news recently: President Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, was required to register as a foreign agent for his consulting firm’s work on behalf of a company with ties to the Turkish government.

The database is made up of FARA forms filed with the Department of Justice. The registration forms include information on the organization serving as a foreign agent, details of the business arrangement, and political donations made by the organization. The database also contains short forms (filed by individuals), and supplemental forms, filed every six months, that provide detailed information on work performed for the client. You can search the full text of the documents, or search by registrant name, name of foreign principal, or location. You can also restrict your search to a given date range.

For more information on what’s in the database, see the site’s methodology page.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Paywalls Catch Up to Some Perma.cc Records

Perma.cc solves the problem of link rot for law schools, courts, and universities.  Link rot occurs when the hyperlinks cited in scholarly papers and court opinions no longer lead to the webpages they’re meant to reference. Perma.cc creates a permanent, archived version of a website and assigns a permanent URL to that version. The archived version of the cited content will then be permanently available—even if the website modifies, moves, or deletes the page’s originally cited content.

Perma.cc was developed by the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, and its founding supporters included more than sixty law-school libraries, along with the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, the Internet Archive, the Legal Information Preservation Alliance, and the Digital Public Library of America. Here at the University of Houston Law Center, our law review and journals have been creating Perma links since the summer of 2016, and all are very satisfied with the user experience and results. Collectively, the Law Center’s Perma.cc users have preserved more than 1300 webpages in the less than year for readers to reference, even as URLs change and content disappears.

This month the excellent Editor in Chief of the Houston Law Review’s 54th board, Jennifer Robichaux, came to me with a question about archived pages that were now marked as “private” and not available for view. In particular, this affected links from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Curious, I began to check the footnotes of other law review and journal articles that had Perma links to articles from these sites. The result was the same: many Perma links to New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, all marked as private. Here’s what the result image looks like:



It still contains a link to the originally captured page, allowing for verification of the record, but not complete access unless you are a subscriber.


How does this happen? The magic is in the page’s source file. According to Perma’s User Guide:

 “Some Perma Records become private automatically upon creation, and their status cannot be changed. This applies to pages with a “noarchive” metatag or a Perma-specific exclusion in the site's robots.txt file. Each of these Perma Records is preserved in a dark archive and is accessible only to the individual account, organization and registrar responsible for the Perma Record.”

Learning this I went to the New York Times and checked the source code for an article published today. Sure enough a quick search found this: <meta name="robots" content="noarchive" />. Mystery solved. 

Archival services like Perma.cc weren’t created to subvert copyright, but to preserve the record. Since the actual creating organization may still view the archived page, it remains useful for the organization’s source files. But adding the Perma link to footnotes in these situations is of little help to the reader.  

Journals, law reviews, and others who publish Perma links to give readers access to online materials should be aware of this practice, and check what their Perma links display before publication and adjust citations accordingly. Librarians managing Perma accounts for their institution can assist by noting this in their communications with incoming editorial boards this spring and summer.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Hydraulic Fracturing: A Guide to Environmental and Real Property Issues

The ABA has recently published Hydraulic Fracturing: A Guide to Environmental and Real Property Issues (KF1849.H35 2017) by Keith B. Hall and Hannah J. Wiseman. The first chapter provides a background on hydraulic fracturing or fracking and covers the different types. The property rights of lessors and lessees versus the owners originating from common law are also discussed. Environmental issues such as water quality, air and climate, and federal, state, and local regulation and exemptions are covered. Information regarding the composition of fracking fluids and data on groundwater quality, matters related to subsurface trespass, and induced earthquakes are among the other issues explored by the authors. This source is now available on the law library's new titles shelf (across from the reference desk).  

Monday, February 20, 2017

IP and Incorporation into Law


The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia recently granted summary judgment to plaintiffs in a copyright and trademark infringement case involving technical standards that were incorporated by reference into law.  The case, American Society for Testing and Materials, d/b/a ASTM International v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc., is of possible interest to legal researchers given its implications for the accessibility of legal documents.

In this case, the defendant was a website dedicated to providing the public with access to free copies of federal, state and local government codes.  Some of the federal codes hosted by the defendant incorporated voluntary industry standards and best practices into federal law by reference, as is permitted under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(1)(E).  The defendant hosted free copies of these standards on its website along with the federal codes, and was sued by the organizations that drafted and published the standards. The district court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs, holding that copyrighted material does not lose its protection when incorporated by reference into law.

This case does not result in the complete unavailability of free legal materials, as the plaintiffs in this case also provide their respective standards to the public online, and at no charge. However, the free versions of these materials lack the search functionality of the paid versions, and the precedent of preserving intellectual property rights in materials incorporated into law may become a concern in the future.

For further reading, interested parties might be interested in this Government Technology article discussing the case.  For a more general introduction to the topic, researchers may want to consider the law review article cited by the court, Incorporation by Reference in an Open-Government Age by Emily Bremer.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

CRS Reports on the Supreme Court Appointment Process


President Trump recently nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. For those interested in learning more about the appointment process, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) has published a new report, Supreme Court Appointment Process: President’s Selection of a Nominee. It includes information on the criteria for selecting a nominee, the advice and consent role of the Senate, the political aspects of the process, and the use of recess appointments to temporarily bypass Senate confirmation. For a more detailed account of the Senate’s role, the following CRS reports may also be of interest:
For more information on finding CRS reports online, see our blog post on the subject.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Congressional Report on the Executive Authority to Exclude Aliens Released Days Before Immigration Ban


On January 27 President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States. Four days earlier, on January 24, the Congressional Research Service released its own report:  Executive Authority to Exclude Aliens: In Brief.

To those unfamiliar, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a federal legislative branch agency, housed inside the Library of Congress, charged with providing the United States Congress non-partisan advice on issues that may come before Congress, including immigration.

Included in the report are in-depth discussions on the operation of sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in the context of the executive power . Discussions of sections 212(f),  214(a)(1) and 215(a)(1) report on how the sections have been used by Presidents, along with relevant case law and precedents. Most interesting is the list of executive orders excluding some groups of aliens during past presidencies; the table allows readers to compare and contrast the limits of previous orders.

The report notes the large breadth of power the president holds in denying entry to aliens, “if [the president] finds that their entry would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, for such period as he shall deem necessary.” It also identifies potential challenges that could be made to such an order including: inconsistency with congressional intent, and the violation of international treaties or the First Amendment if the exclusion is based on religion. 

Anyone interested in learning the legal underpinnings of the recent immigration ban or is writing on the topic will find the report most useful.