Updated September 4, 2007 and still under revision.
History of HyperLaw.
HyperLaw was formed in 1991 by Alan Sugarman, a New York attorney and University of Chicago Law School graduate, to engage in the electronic publishing of legal information. HyperLaw's name was derived from the term "hyperlink", anticipating the linking to primary caselaw (court opinions) from CD-ROM and Internet electronic legal briefs and articles. The intention was to provide an alternative source of linkable caselaw - an alternative to the oligopolies control of caselaw maintained by West Publishing and Mead Data. West and Mead were tied together through their secret cross-licensing agreement
Alan Sugarman had retained electronic publishing rights to a real estate book of his being published by John Wiley and Sons in 1991 and intended to publish a hypertext version of the book on diskette with links to lease forms and to the text of decisions. Sugarman wrote a letter in 1991 asking West for its position as to the copyrightability of its judicial opinions, since West reporters were the only source for many of the opinions. West refused to provide guidance, and advised HyperLaw to proceed at its own risk. Realizing that West's position would throttle the future of legal publishing because of the imminence of electronic publishing and the need to link to court opinions, HyperLaw than addressed the publication of court opinions.
HyperLaw was the first company to release on CD-ROM opinions of the United States Supreme Court (1992) and opinions of the United States Courts of Appeals (1993). The latter product was a direct threat to West's Federal Reporter product, the de facto official reporter of the federal appellate courts. HyperLaw was able to produce this product because the federal appellate courts were then making available, via slow speed dial-up modem, their initially released of their court opinions. The opinions were provided in a variety of word processing formats, and not all opinions were available for downloads. After the initial opinions were released, corrections were made and provided only to West for inclusion in the Federal Reporter and then via WestLaw. These corrections were then shared with Lexis via the secret agreement. Moreover, West claimed that only West could use the citation and pagination of the cases as found in the Federal Reporters (again shared with Lexis through the secret agreement.)
After being threatened by West for publishing the public domain caselaw, HyperLaw in 1994 initiated a declaratory judgment action against West, intervening in an action in the Southern District of New York against West then brought by Matthew Bender, another legal publisher. HyperLaw feared that Mathew Bender would settle with West and otherwise create adverse precedent for other publishers threatening the oligopoly. Ultimately, Matthew Bender did settle with West and was then acquired by Mead's parent, bringing Mathew Bender into the oligopoly.
HyperLaw continued against West in hard fought litigation represented by private practitioners Carl Hartmann and Paul Ruskin with Sugarman against three large law firms retained and bankrolled by West. Ultimately, after a trial concerning West's claims of a copyright in corrections to judicial opinions (in which Matthew Bender did not participate) and appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and denial of certiorari by the United States Supreme Court, HyperLaw prevailed over West, establishing that the text of court opinions even as corrected by West and adding parallel citations, was in the public domain, and, further that the pagination and citation were not subject to copyright protection by West.
While the litigation continued between HyperLaw and West, HyperLaw also focused efforts on other related issues, where HyperLaw and other organizations fought West and other mainstream legal publishers. These efforts included efforts to establish a vendor neutral citation, to encourage courts to electronically disseminate both published and unpublished opinions, and to thwart attempts to undermined access to public information by creating laws for database protection.
At present, HyperLaw is involved in new initiatives to continue to increase the availability of case law to lawyers and the public.
As part of this effort, HyperLaw worked with James Love, the American Association of Law Librarians, and the American Bar Association. HyperLaw also helped to found the American Association of Legal Publishers consisting of small legal publishers.
The Vendor-Neutral/Medium Neutral /Public Domain Citation.. It became apparent to many that a citation format independent of the medium was needed to accommodate the electronic access to caselaw and to permit neutral citation to unpublished opinions - the argument was that citations should no longer be related to the page location in volumes of legal cases published months after issuance of the opinion. HyperLaw worked with the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Bar Association, Jamie Love, and the American Association of Legal Publishers to help establish a public domain citation. HyperLaw was emphatic that a public domain citation needed to utilize the docket number of the legal case from which the opinion was issued; most court personnel in favor of a public domain citation supported the use of the docket number. The limitation of using a sequence number as an public domain citation were as follows: a sequence number required a court official to assign the sequence number, a sequence number would not necessarily be assigned at the time of the release of the opinion, and a sequence number would no function for so-called unpublished opinions. Notwithstanding, the ABA and the AALL pushed for the sequence number - and, the utilization of the so called public domain has not taken hold. Indeed, subsequently, the legal publishers adopted a new citation format for court opinions sanctioning omitting the docket number in citation to opinions not published in a print reporter.
Interestingly, John West, the founder of West Publishing Company, thoughtfully expressed the need for citations to be issued at the time of the publication of the court opinion. He wrote an article Multiplicity of Reports published in 1909 in the Law Library Journal. This article was "discovered" in serendipitous fashion in the Spring of 1995 by HyperLaw's President while he was searching through boxes of exhibits introduced at the trial of West v. Mead in 1988. John West understood the problem and the solution - an immediately issued citation.