It’s easy to believe that if information is merely made available, the Access to Legal Information dilemma has been solved. However, to be true access, it must be meaningful access. Ideally there should be no impediments – physical or legal – that would prevent or slow access to information.
As a practical matter, Access to Legal Information does not exist on a binary of closed vs. open. Rather, there’s a gradient of openness, mainly determined by the needs of the user. Some barriers to access will absolutely bar the use of and access to information while some will present merely an additional annoying but surmountable hurdle for the user to encounter.
Often in the open source/open access worlds, there is debate about the meaning of the words “free” and “open” and whether or not one is better than the other for describing information. This is due in part to the fact that the English language word “free” does not adequately delineate between the notions of “libre” (no restrictions) and “gratis” (no cost). Often that which is free is not open, and for some people in the open law and open data movements, that is insufficient action on the part of the state. However for many users, a free resource is all that is needed.
Perhaps a more useful distinction is to look at the use of the information by potential users. In the case of legal information on the web, it is suggested that one looks at its retail vs. wholesale use. Retail legal publishing is aimed at either the public or legal practitioners who are using the publishing platform for research purposes. Wholesale legal publishing is meant for the creators of a legal information secondary market and usually takes the form of bulk data publishing. Some publishing practices are perfectly suitable for retail needs, yet have the effect of being “closed law” for wholesale needs, and vice versa.
The following chart lists the found barriers to access and whether they impact retail users, wholesale users or both.
For more details about each barrier to access, hover over Barriers to Access on the top menu or click the links to the right.