Friday, May 31, 2013

Copyright Codex, the Free-for-All Treatise

Among the many reasons why legal research can be frustrating, especially for non-lawyers, is the relative inaccessibility of research materials. Secondary sources, such as scholarly treatises, are often invaluable tools to help researchers untangle the complex interrelationships of legislation, regulations and case law. But usually these expensive and highly specialized sources can be found only on the shelves of law libraries, or locked behind subscription-only databases like Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis and Westlaw. In addition, resources which are written primarily for an audience of practicing attorneys can be difficult to understand without a legal background.

The new Copyright Codex: A Free Treatise for Lawyers and Artists attempts to remedy both of these problems, at least for the topic of copyright law. Maintained by Eric Adler, a partner in the New York office of intellectual property firm Adler Vermillion & Skocilich, this free online treatise presents copyright law in plain language and a user-friendly interface. The Basics outlines the key concepts of copyrightability and the registration process, while subsequent sections explore more complex legal issues like fair use, what constitutes infringement and even litigation procedure.

Copyright Codex is a great starting place for copyright law research. For additional resources in the Goodson Law Library's collection, such as the classic treatise Nimmer on Copyright (KF2994 .N56 & online in LexisNexis/Lexis Advance) and its major competitor Patry on Copyright (KF2994 .P355 & online in Westlaw/WestlawNext), consult our research guide to Intellectual Property Law or Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Urban Dictionary's Day in Court

Yesterday, the New York Times highlighted the growing trend of court citations to the popular crowd-sourced definition website Urban Dictionary. Urban Dictionary is edited by its readers, who have submitted millions of definitions for contemporary slang words and phrases. The site fills the void left by traditional slang dictionaries which often take years to compile, leaving their contents already out of date by the time they arrive on bookshelves.

Courts have taken notice of this online option for defining more current slang. The Times mentions a 2010 St. John's Law Review article about citations to "consensus websites" like Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia, which noted 27 citations to Urban Dictionary in state and federal case law databases as of April 2010. A similar search by the Goodson Blogson in Westlaw today yields nearly three times as many – 68 total appearances in state and federal court opinions, as well as another 33 in administrative law decisions and materials.

Not everyone is happy about this growing trend. Some law and language scholars express concern about the reliability and accuracy of audience-edited websites. Urban Dictionary, in particular, uses a "fan vote" system to promote the most popular user-submitted definitions; however, many of the submissions are jokey and vulgar, and not necessarily accurate definitions. But even accurate definitions do not always persuade courts: in 2009, the Nevada Supreme Court balked at using Urban Dictionary to deny the registration of a vanity license plate reading "HOE," which driver William Junge chose for his Chevrolet Tahoe after "TAHOE" was no longer available. After a lawsuit by the ACLU, the court agreed that "A reasonable mind would not accept the Urban Dictionary entries alone as adequate to support a conclusion that the word 'HOE' is offensive or inappropriate" (news release and case filings via ACLU).

To locate more scholarly slang dictionaries in the Duke University Libraries, try a subject search of our catalog for "English language – Slang – Dictionaries." You'll find a mix of historical and recent publications in both print and online formats. For assistance with locating these materials, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Monday, May 20, 2013

PLI Materials Now Available Campus-Wide

Since 1933, the Practising Law Institute (PLI) has been a leading provider of continuing legal education (CLE) materials. The Goodson Law Library has more than 1,000 PLI titles on its shelves, with particularly strong collections of corporate/securities law, intellectual property, and civil practice materials.

Electronic access to the PLI library is now available campus-wide until the end of the year via the PLI Discover PLUS database. PLI Discover PLUS is accessible through the library's Legal Databases & Links page, under Legal Links. Discover Plus includes the full text of PLI treatises and course handbooks from 2005 to the present, as well as a growing collection of legal forms and seminar transcripts.

Selected PLI titles (including The Pocket MBA, Electronic Discovery Deskbook, Working with Contracts: What Law School Doesn't Teach You, and Duke Law Professor Steven L. Schwarcz's Structured Finance: A Guide to the Principles of Asset Securitization) are also available in electronic format to current members of the Duke Law community through Bloomberg Law, through the path Books & Treatises > Practising Law Institute. PLI materials were also previously available through Westlaw, but were removed in late 2012.

For help with accessing PLI titles in print, through Discover PLUS, or on Bloomberg Law, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Digital Estate Planning

The May 2013 issue of the Internet Law Researcher newsletter (which is available to members of the Duke Law community through Westlaw's GLILR database) rounds up a bibliography of legislation and articles related to digital asset estate planning. To locate the article in Westlaw Classic or WestlawNext, use the citation 18 No. 5 Internet L. Researcher 1.

Planning for death has always been an uncomfortable and difficult topic for most people, and the growth of social media and other online accounts has added a new layer of complexity to sorting out the affairs of the recently deceased. Author Ken Kozlowski describes the current situation as "a big mess" in which "the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA) [is] being cited as a reason for services such as Facebook to withhold access to deceased individuals' accounts, passwords, stored photos, etc." Five states have passed legislation related to control of deceased individuals' online accounts, and undoubtedly more state legislatures will follow suit.

The Internet Law Researcher article recommends a number of publications from legal and mainstream sources, including the recent law review student note by Maria Perrone, What Happens When We Die: Estate Planning of Digital Assets, and the blog Digital Passing. The recommended resources offer tips for developing a plan to handle digital assets after death, and serve as a good supplement to the Goodson Law Library's collection of estate planning guides, most of which do not discuss digital assets in detail.

To locate more basic estate planning materials, try the Legal Information Reference Center's section of Wills & Estate Planning, which contains e-book version of self-help law titles like 2012's Get it Together: Organize Your Records So Your Family Won't Have To and 2011's Quick & Legal Will Book. The Goodson Law Library's collection also contains more specialized materials like Estate Planning for Same-Sex Couples or the Bloomberg BNA Tax Management Portfolio Estate Planning for the Unmarried Adult. To locate items in the Duke Libraries Catalog, try a subject search for "estate planning – United States" or Ask a Librarian.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Life After Westlaw Printers

Last year, Westlaw announced that it would cease support for dedicated printers in summer 2013. As a result, the two Duke Law dedicated Westlaw printers will be removed from the library during the week of May 13, and users will no longer see these machines as a printing option within Westlaw Classic or WestlawNext.

But wait! You can still print out Westlaw-generated documents at the Goodson Law Library – you'll just need to send them to the Law School's ePrint system instead. Our recommended method is to first download the documents within WestlawNext or Westlaw Classic for a quick review, in order to ensure that you send only those pages you actually need to the printer; for example, the research references and case notes within annotated code sections can increase a print job exponentially!

However, users may also wish to consider the more environmentally-friendly option of online storage, in folders. Within Westlaw, this feature is exclusive to the newer WestlawNext interface, but is a great way for users to organize multiple research projects or issues. Access and manage your folders from the link in the upper right-hand corner of WestlawNext. There is no limit to how many documents you can store in your various folders, unless you wish to export them to your computer (in which case, a folder cannot contain more than 100 items). For collaborative projects, you can also opt to share folders with others in your "organization" (i.e., Duke Law).

LexisNexis plans to keep its dedicated printers for the time being (one in the Document Production Room on Level 3 and one in the journals area on Level 1), but they too offer a useful folder storage option within the Lexis Advance interface. Folders are accessible from the "My Workspace" drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of any screen within Lexis Advance. Lexis Advance folders can be annotated, searched, and shared with other users.

Bloomberg Law has never offered dedicated printing to law schools, but they do also provide an internal "Workspace" folder system, which can likewise be annotated, searched and shared. Workspace documentation can be accessed in Bloomberg's Help Center.

Before you print, consider your online options for storing your legal research findings! While the folder systems can undeniably limit users to a single research system (or create a confusing system of multiple folders on the same topic across different research services), they also certainly offer some advantages over stacks of printouts. Perhaps most importantly, the built-in citator services continue to update within your online folders, meaning that you'll be able to tell at a glance whether a case in your folder has received negative treatment since the last time you viewed it. The sharing and document annotation options also make these an appealing method to collaborate on research projects.

For help with using the folder storage within legal research services, be sure to Ask a Librarian.