Monday, July 21, 2014

Phony Maps & Copyright Traps

By all accounts, Ohio native Lillian Mountweazel (1942-1973) lived an interesting life. The former fountain designer turned to photography at the tender age of 21, exhibiting and publishing her critically-acclaimed photographs of such far-ranging subjects as Parisian cemeteries and American mailboxes. Mountweazel died at just 31 years old in an explosion, while on an assignment for Combustibles magazine. Had she lived a bit longer, she might have eventually settled down in Agloe, New York or Argleton, England -- places which, like Lillian Mountweazel, never really existed.

Those are just a few examples of copyright traps: fabrications deliberately tucked into otherwise factual publications in order to detect third-party copying. Copyright traps can be found in a variety of sources like:
  • Encyclopedias: Lillian Mountweazel was an invention of The New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975). "If someone copied Lillian," editor Richard Steins told The New Yorker in 2005, "then we'd know they'd stolen from us."
  • Dictionaries: In 2005, linguistic experts uncovered the New Oxford American Dictionary's copyright trap, "esquivalience." Defined as "the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities; the shirking of duties," editors confirmed it had been invented and inserted to detect copying. (The word appeared in both the first and second editions of the dictionary, but has been dropped from the most recent 3d edition.)
  • Telephone directories: A dispute over phony phone-book entries made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991. In the seminal copyright case Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 US 340 (1991), plaintiffs included twenty-eight fictitious listings in their telephone directory, from which defendants copied four. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor held that the plaintiff's directory listings were uncopyrightable facts, and their basic arrangement lacked sufficient originality to receive protection from the copyright laws.
  • Search engine results: More recently, search engine competitors have used fictitious results as a way to detect copying. In 2011, Google created 100 fictitious search engine results for gibberish words like "hiybbprqag." Google later accused rival search engine Bing of stealing its results for these made-up entries. See a detailed review of the sting operation, complete with screen shots, at Search Engine Land.
Perhaps the most interesting examples of copyright traps occur in the world of cartography. Last week, the blog Atlas Obscura highlighted the age-old map-making practice of "trap streets" or even fictitious towns, such as the famously non-existent Argleton, England. Its American equivalent, Agloe, New York, was covered earlier this year by NPR and Big Think. It's impossible to know how many other "phantom settlements" might be lurking in old maps – a 1902 National Geographic Magazine article on map copyright law describes the practice, saying that "occasionally some map-makers intentionally introduce slight errors in order to more effectually catch the unwary infringer. Appearance of such an intentional error has been held evidence of copying."

In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's Feist decision, though, it seemed likely that trap streets and other fictitious map entries would be treated similarly to fictitious telephone directory listings – that is, as uncopyrightable facts. Atlas Obscura cites a Pennsylvania federal court opinion from Alexandria Drafting Co. v. Amsterdam, No. 95-1587 (E.D. Pa. June 4, 1997), which addressed the copying of trap streets, and held for the defendant after applying the reasoning of Feist. It should be noted, however, that legal research citators like Westlaw's KeyCite and LexisNexis's Shepard's service reveal that this particular opinion was withdrawn and vacated by the same court a year later, on June 22, 1998, by an order which read in part, "THE 6/4/97 DECISION IS WITHDRAWN AND VACATED AND OF NO FURTHER FORCE OR EFFECT." (According to a party brief in an unrelated case from the 2d Circuit Court of Appeals, this opinion withdrawal was part of a confidential settlement agreement between Alexandria Drafting and Amsterdam. Brief for Defendants-Appellees Cross-Appellants, Sparaco v. Lawler, No. 99-9519, 2002 WL 32174330 (2d Cir. June 28, 2002), at 29-30.) But while Alexandria Drafting Co. itself should no longer be cited by legal researchers, its reasoning and application of Feist would likely be repeated in future, similar court opinions concerning copyright traps.

To learn more about copyright law, check out the Goodson Law Library's research guide to Intellectual Property or Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Updated Guide to North Carolina Practice

The Goodson Law Library's research guide to North Carolina Practice has just been updated. This guide outlines primary and secondary legal research resources for the state of North Carolina, in both print and electronic formats. So what's changed in the latest version of this guide, besides updates to links and book editions?
  • A new section with guidance on researching North Carolina legislative history, including links to General Assembly study reports and digitized versions of House and Senate journals.
  • Updates to the list of A-Z Subject Treatises to include North Carolina Continuing Legal Education (CLE) publications, which are now available to the Duke Law School community via Bloomberg Law's secondary sources menu.
  • Improved instructions for accessing online versions of other treatises on LexisNexis and WestlawNext, as well as N.C. pattern jury instructions through Fastcase (which is provided free to members of the N.C. Bar Association, and is the only electronic source for the state's pattern jury instructions).
Thanks to Reference Intern Aaron Kirschenfeld for his work on updating the N.C. Practice research guide. For help with accessing the listed resources, or for other questions about North Carolina legal materials, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rotten Links (Are Big Time-Sinks)

It's no secret that web links can be unreliable. The Chesapeake Digital Preservation Group, which has been reporting on website "link rot" since 2008, said in its 2013 annual report that nearly half of the links from its original website sample list no longer work; this includes a number of government and educational websites. A similar study of websites cited by the U.S. Supreme Court from 1996-2010 showed that nearly one-third of the cited links were no longer functional. As the A.B.A. Journal reported in December, groups including Chesapeake as well as (of which Duke Law is a member) are working to combat the problem going forward, but in many cases the damage has already been done.

So what can researchers do when they encounter a dead website URL? A blueprint can be found in chapter 6 of the latest edition of Levitt & Rosch's new reference work The Cybersleuth's Guide to the Internet: Conducting Effective Free Investigative & Legal Research on the Web. For pages which were changed or moved very recently, you may be able to access a cached version through your preferred search engine. Google, Bing and Yahoo all provide temporary "cached" copies of the last time their search engine's crawler visited a particular page. On Yahoo search results, a link for the "Cached" version of each page is displayed prominently; on Google and Bing, cached options must be accessed through a drop-down arrow next to the page's URL.

Cached versions of pages change frequently. To view versions of a web page which are older than available search engine caches, try the Wayback Machine, which provides archived versions of specific web pages, dating back to 1996 in some cases. Enter the website URL in the search box to view a timeline of available archived versions. For example, the Goodson Law Library home page has been archived back to February 1999 (back when it was known as the Duke University Law Library, or D.U.L.L.).

 Note that many websites request to be excluded from the Wayback Machine, and even archived versions of pages may not always display properly. (For an example, note the broken image files in this early 1999 snapshot of the Duke Law Library site. They load quickly and effectively by the snapshots from 2000.) Sometimes, top-level archived pages will display properly, but lower-level pages will result in an error message. In addition, content which was generated dynamically (e.g., from a built-in site search) on a site, and downloads such as PDF files, may still be inaccessible via the Wayback Machine. However, the site remains a great option for accessing older versions of known URLs.

For help with tracking down a broken link, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Free Legal Research via State Bar Associations: An Update

Last October, Goodson Law Library Head of Reference Services Jennifer L. Behrens compiled an online map detailing which low-cost legal research services were provided for free to members of various state bar associations. This was an update of a 2010 map created by Greg Lambert of 3 Geeks and a Law Blog.

Since the October 2013 map was compiled, several state bars have either changed or announced upcoming changes to their free legal research services to members. The Goodson Law Library map has now been updated for June 2014 to reflect those changes, and can be found at or downloaded below.

Although the overall market share of leading services Fastcase and Casemaker remains steady, several states have made changes to their designated free research service. Most notably, the State Bar of Texas will offer both Fastcase and Casemaker to its members, after previously providing only Casemaker. Several states will also switch their longstanding services later this year, with Pennsylvania adopting Casemaker this summer in place of its InCite service, and South Carolina switching from Casemaker to Fastcase in November.

Chart view: Legal Research Services by State Bar Association, as of 06/27/2014 07/01/2014 (thanks to Ed Walters, CEO of Fastcase, for the correction)

Service Offered
No statewide service
(some access via local bars)
No statewide service
District of Columbia
No statewide service Fastcase
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
InCite (switching to Casemaker in August 2014)
Rhode Island
South Carolina
Casemaker (switching to Fastcase in Nov. 2014)
South Dakota
West Virginia

Currently, Duke Law students can sign up for free access to Casemaker through the CasemakerX educational platform. Although there is currently no direct access at Duke Law to Fastcase, currently-enrolled law students can join the North Carolina Bar Association for free to enjoy this membership benefit. In addition, Duke students can see some Fastcase materials through its partnership with HeinOnline. HeinOnline's research libraries include links to state and federal case law which are powered by Fastcase. Fastcase's Authority Check citation analysis tool is also used within Hein in order to locate additional relevant case law and make note of potentially negative treatment. To see the Hein-Fastcase partnership in action, visit HeinOnline and click the Fastcase tab in order to quickly access cases by citation. 

For more information about low-cost legal research alternatives, check out the Goodson Law Library guide to Legal Research on the Web or Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Price of a Wrongful Conviction

What is a year of your life worth? If you spent it behind bars for a crime you didn't commit, the answer may be lower than you think. As NPR reported yesterday, slightly more than half the states have procedures in place for restitution when a wrongfully-convicted person is exonerated. An interactive map, with links to the relevant code sections, is available courtesy of the Innocence Project.

North Carolina fixes the amount at $50,000 per year in prison – an amount equal to the federal government and several other states, though experts note that this amount was selected by the federal government ten years ago simply to match the top-paying state at the time. Texas tops the list at $80,000, while Wisconsin offers only $5,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment.

Although Wisconsin may look comparatively stingy, the states which offer higher amounts are not necessarily being generous. In many states, acceptance of the fixed payout waives a former inmate's right to sue – which could cost the state much more in potential legal fees and damage awards. And as outlined in a 2012 Albany Law Review article, many exonerees must wait for years to receive their statutory compensation.

To learn more about the legal issues surrounding wrongful convictions, try a subject search of the Duke Libraries Catalog for "Judicial error – United States". You’ll find titles like Duke Law alumni author James R. Acker's 2011 title Wrongful Conviction: Law, Science, and Policy. For help locating this or other resources about wrongful convictions, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

United Nations Law Collection Now Available in HeinOnline

The Goodson Law Library has added HeinOnline's United Nations Law Collection to its subscription of Hein content libraries. Researchers at Duke University now have additional options to access key UN legal publications, including the United Nations Treaty Series, the League of Nations Treaty Series, UNCITRAL and UNIDIR publications, UN Yearbooks and journals. A collection of current and historical treatises on international law, human rights, and the history of the UN is also included.

Although many of these items are available in the Goodson Law Library's book collection as well as on the United Nations' own website, the Hein library makes it easy to quickly retrieve a UN Treaty by UNTS or LNTS citation, locate a UN Treaty by topic, and link to the full text of law review articles that cite a specific UN Treaty. The enhanced searching and retrieval features will undoubtedly aid international law researchers at Duke Law and Duke University, who can access the Hein library from off-campus with a current NetID and password.

Access to UN resources through HeinOnline will soon be added to the Goodson Law Library's extensive research guide to the United Nations. In the meantime, explore the United Nations Law Collection directly, or Ask a Librarian for assistance with using it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Tiananmen Square: 25 Years Later

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, during which the Chinese government declared martial law in order to brutally end several weeks of peaceful pro-democracy student protests in central Beijing. The exact death toll remains uncertain, but hundreds of citizens were fatally beaten, shot or crushed by tanks; thousands more were wounded in the daylong military reaction.

The world media has commemorated the somber anniversary with fascinating histories of the events. TIME magazine's cover story provides a detailed view of the events on the ground, while the New York Times reviewed internal Chinese military documents which showed discord among military leaders regarding the use of force on student protestors. London's Independent paper examined the uncertain fate of the iconic "Tank Man," who defiantly blocked the path of a line of tanks in the street (CNN video footage). The powerful sight of a lone dissident bravely standing before the Chinese army became the most recognizable image from the Tiananmen Square protests. Many Chinese citizens have likely never seen this incredible moment, however, due to censorship of the state-run media and school textbooks.

To learn more about the history of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, visit the National Security Archive's collection Tiananmen Square, 1989: The Declassified History, which reproduces embassy cables and other State Department communications from the crackdown. A subject search of the Duke Libraries catalog for "China -- History -- Tiananmen Square Incident, 1989" will reveal titles on campus such as the 2001 collection The Tiananmen Papers, which purported to reproduce key official documents related to the crackdown (although the New York Times notes scholarly controversy about the authenticity of its contents). The Duke database Tiananmen Square and U.S.-China relations, 1989-1993 also offers thousands of pages of White House and State Department files related to the massacre and its effect on foreign policy. For help using these library resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.