Hi. My name is Carl Malamud and I run Public.Resource.Org, a nonprofit that helps make important government information available to you. In the past, we've posted over 6,000 government videos through our FedFlix program and were responsible for putting the historical opinions of the U.S. Court of Appeals on the Internet for the first time.
Our most recent project is to publish the world's public safety codes.
These codes—building, fire, electric, plumbing, HazMat, elevators and much more—are mandated by law and regulate every aspect of our lives.
But citizens have not been able to access these codes without paying hundreds of dollars. That's right! Hundreds of dollars to consult your local building code. Hundreds of dollars to research that oil spill or find out if your factory is operating safely. Hundreds of dollars to find out if your baby stroller meets the latest safety standards mandated by law.
But we want to do more, and to do more we need your help.
This Kickstarter: Rekeying Public Safety Codes To Make Them Accessible
We've spent a fortune buying paper copies of public safety codes, but low-quality scans just aren't good enough. We're asking your help so that we can rekey the codes into valid HTML. We carefully key in the text of each code, comparing two independent keyed versions for accuracy, then setting that all into valid HTML.
What this means is all these codes become available in a standard format that works with today's search engines, on mobile platforms, and are significantly more accessible and usable than the scans.
If we reach our funding goal, we'll be able to continue our project to key in many of the 28,040 public safety codes we've posted that are incorporated into law. We'll also go the next step, which is to redraw the graphics into SVG and recode all the formulas into Math Markup Language. This makes these vital public safety specifications much more accessible and more usable.
3 Examples of What We're Doing
We've been doing this for several years, and there are many examples of our work on-line at law.resource.org. Here's 3 examples:
We're set a floor of $100,000 on this campaign, because that's the minimum we need to operate at scale. But, we can put to good use $1.2 million and if we get more, we can do some serious work on diagrams, formulas, metadata, indices, and other improvements. That's a lot of money, but our work covers the globe. In particular, our focus in 2014 is on making all 18,592 public safety standards for India available, accessible, and usable.
If you support this project, we'll add your name to the wall of support at YesWeScan.Org. We appreciate your financial contribution, but also important is to show the world that the Internet supports public safety and cares about the law.
When you contribute at the next level, we will happily acknowledge your contribution on a standard, much as NPR does on their radio programs. "Support for the HTML conversion of [name of standard here] was made possible by a generous contribution from [your name here]." We want to show the world that people care about public safety.
For higher contribution levels, we're happy to send you pamphlets or "Codes of the World," a new coffee table book based on our radical public printing factory. Check out the Codes of the World photoset on Flickr and read what Cory Doctorow had to say about the Big Box of Standards he received.
Our Revolutionary Pamphlets
My pamphlets are all based on speeches I've given. Many of them are heavily researched and footnoted. If you get a reward with a pamphlet, it will come signed by me and rubber-stamped with a revolutionary saying such as "Code is Law." If you want a specific pamphlet, happy to accommodate.
By The People was a speech about why the primary legal of materials should not be locked in a closet. It was given at O'Reilly's Gov 2.0 Summit.
The workflow that we use to make standards available on the Internet is well-established, and we've been doing this for several years. We've already converted 8,068 graphics files into SVG and MathML. We have over 1,538 standards rekeyed already into HTML. We're confident we can continue to scale this process up.
When there are obstacles, particularly technical ones, we keep at it. It took close to a decade to get the U.S. Patent database on the net. We've been working on building codes since 2007. The quest to put Congressional video online spans 15 years. Many of the databases we work on, such as the 7 million nonprofit tax returns we host, have required considerable struggle over several years to get the data on the net. We may not always win, but you can bet we'll keep on trying.
The biggest challenge we do face is that some of the code people think it is OK for the law to cost lots of money because they're the ones that get your money. Some of these non-profit organizations pay million-dollar salaries to their execs and they want to be the only ones that are allowed to post copies of the laws. But, some of the best lawyers in the world, including our friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and a half-dozen top law firms have volunteered their efforts pro bono to support our work to make the law available.
Not everybody in the standards world has problems with this, and in some countries (including the United States!), we've got top-level governmental support. Still, fighting for your right to read the law is the biggest challenge we face. When these challenges arise, our strategy to tackle them is we work harder and so far that's been working.
The main reason is accuracy. You don't want mistakes in critical public safety codes. We use the same method as big legal publishers, known as double-key. That means that two versions of the text are independently created and then they are compared. That doesn't catch all mistakes (you can do "triple-key" if you really want to chase down everything). We're guaranteed a minimum of 99.51% with double-key, triple-key would be 99.97%.
Note that many vendors use "double-key with OCR assist" to speed up their work. That means the OCR is run on the text, but then humans take over.
The second reason we rekey data instead of just OCR is we're able to extract the structure and recode it into HTML. For example, our tables are all real tables, special characters are properly encoded. And, because we're tagging the data as HTML, we're also adding semantic information, such as making sure headers are created with <Hx> tags. That means that later on, we can run scripts that automatically add id tags and we can generate indices and tables of contents.
In the long run, our goal is to see that any government that requires a technical standard as law makes that data available in a clueful fashion. That means real text with real markup in an open format. Our goal is to see that happen, but we can make that goal happen way quicker if we give it a big push. That's what we're doing with this Kickstarter campaign.
The bottom line is in a couple years, we can make many if not most legally-mandated technical standards available on the net. It would take far longer to get the code people to do that for us. On the other hand, in a sustainable world the code people need to making the laws available to the citizens, and our hope is that by "showing by doing" we get the governments of the world to imitate our work and do this themselves.
This is a strategy I've used successfully in the past. For example, I ran a version of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's EDGAR database for two years, then got the SEC to take our system over. Likewise, I was able to push the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office into putting a clueful version of the patent database online (although that effort took well over a decade).
Indeed we are! Public.Resource.Org is a public charity under Section 501(c)(3) of the IRS Code. You can find our audited financials and exemption letter at https://public.resource.org/about/
Kickstarter is about projects not causes. But, I can tell you that if we're successful and you're a backer, we'll send you a letter detailing the total amount of your contribution and how much of that went to stuff you got as a benefit. We can't give you tax advice, but the general rule is that you can deduct from your U.S. taxes any contribution above-and-beyond any goods you received. Your mileage may vary, make sure you check with your tax advisor.
Absolutely! Everything on https://law.resource.org/pub/ is available with the HTTPS, FTP, and rsync services. We no longer support the plain HTTP access method. We assert no rights over any of the information.
In both the PACER example and the present issue of public safety codes, the question is whether we can require a license and the payment of access fees as a condition of access to justice. Limiting access to the raw materials of our democracy in order to extract rents is fundamentally unjust. Access fees and restrictions on use function as a poll tax on access to justice.
In 1993, the year a lot of the Internet started to blossom, I did a project with Marshall T. Rose to layer a free fax service on top of the Internet. We called it The Phone Company and snagged tpc.int as our domain name. At the time, there were only two organizations in the .int TLD, us and NATO, and one of them was still considered dangerous.
Stand Up For Safety! For your contribution, we will add your name to the Wall of Safety at YesWeScan.Org. Your participation helps rekey standards, but it also shows people care about these important issues.
This Law is Your Law! If you'd like, we'll put your name on the wall at YesWeScan.Org with the list of people who believe the law belongs to everybody and send you a free e-book of our new "Codes of the World" coffee table book. Your help makes this project possible.
Adopt a Needy Standard! We'll put an acknowledgment on a standard: "Support for the HTML conversion of this standard was made possible by a contribution from [YOUR NAME HERE!]." Plus, you get your name on the wall at YesWeScan.Org and an e-book!
Instead of your own name, you can name the standard for somebody you whish to honor. Makes a wonderful gift!
Get a Beautiful, Geeky, Coffee Table Book! In addition to getting an acknowledgment on a converted standard and getting your name on the wall of support, we'll send you a printed (and signed) coffee table book featuring our photo set of "Codes of the World."
Box of Propaganda. You get 3 pamphlets, and "Codes of the World" coffee table book, all packed up in a box festooned with stickers and stamped all over with radical sayings like "Code Is Law" and "Equal Protection." These boxes are what we send to government officials to get their attention! Plus, of course, you'll be acknowledged on one of the standards and on the wall of support at YesWeScan.Org.
Big Box of Propaganda. You'll get six different pamphlets and the Codes of the World coffee table book, all packed up with red, white, and blue crinkle-pak, a sheet of stickers, a genuine artifact chosen by Carl. This collector's edition shows you really care about public safety. (And, of course, you'll be acknowledged on a converted standard and get your name on the wall of support!)