[Previous] [Next] [Up] [Title]

3. The changing environment

The major change in the internet legal publishing environment is the diversification of publishing sources, which has consequences for effective access by users, and funding consequences for AustLII.

Diversification of web publishing - institutional `self publishing'

There are many reasons why government bodies and courts (`institutions') will increasingly publish their own primary legal information via the internet - At present, there are few Australian institutions publishing their own primary legal materials on the web. Some Australian Parliaments publish Bills before them, Victorian legislation is available[14]http://www.dms.dpc.vic.gov.au/], and a few tribunals publish some of their own decisions. No courts do so as yet. This will gradually change over the next few years.

Diversification of web publishing - other publishers

Users also now have a choice of internet publishers other than AustLII who offer multiple sources of primary legal materials, with different forms of value-adding than that offered by AustLII:

Diversification of web publishing - secondary legal materials

We should not forget that there is already an enormous amount of valuable secondary Australian legal information published on the internet - government reports, parliamentary materials, law journals, conference papers on law firms' home pages and many other sources. As yet, effective means of access to this enormous diffuse range of material has not been provided, despite the value of internet-wide search engines such as Alta Vista.

Changed expectations

An environmental change that we notice is the constantly changing and increasing expectations of users concerning the quality of free legal information via the web. In 1995 users were delighted to obtain High Court decisions on the web after only a few months. Now, a delay of a few hours after the Court hands down a decision is enough for AustLII to receive `feedback' mail asking `why isn't decision X available yet, as it has been out for hours?'.

Political environment

The most unpredictable environmental element in relation to the free provision of legal information by legal institutions themselves, or by government legal publishers, are the recurring currents of `privatisation', `outsourcing' and `user pays', all of which make any free access provision of legal information by these public bodies unreliable in the medium term (let alone the long term). No free access provision of legal information by a public body can be guaranteed to continue, particularly if it is valuable because it is the only source of that data.

A major problem with privatisation or outsourcing of provision of primary legal information is that it can easily be irreversible. When CLIRS created databases of NSW case law behind the protection of a government-backed monopoly in the 1980s, it not only prevented the development of any competitive commercial databases, but retarded the NSW Supreme Court's own development of a collection of computerised case law in public hands for over a decade. See `The Politics of Public Legal Information'[17]http://ltc.law.warwick.ac.uk/jilt/LegInfo/97_2gree/paper4.htm] in the AustLII Papers.

Access consequences for users

If legal institutions do increasingly `self publish', or there develops a multiplicity of public sector publishers, this has serious consequences for users:

Funding consequences for AustLII

`Self-publishing' by legal institutions, and alternative public sector publishers, also has consequences for AustLII's financial viability:

  • [Previous] [Next] [Up] [Title]