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A new bill proposes to eliminate PACER fees, making electronic documents downloaded from federal courts free.
The Electronic Court Records Reform Act would prohibit courts from charging for downloads, which currently cost as much as 10 cents a page. The measure is before the House Judiciary Committee.
If approved, it would change a significant part of the system since it was launched in 1988. For some, it has been a long time coming.
Rep. Doug Collins, who is sponsoring the bill, said he introduced the act to modernize judicial records and remove unnecessary barriers to access them.
"Americans deserve a justice system that is transparent and accessible," he said in a statement.
PACER fees are not breaking the bank for attorneys, researchers, or most people who use the system. But the fee-generating website -- which brought in $150 million in 2015 -- has given courts "a slush fund of sorts" to fund other programs.
Problems with the fee system also prompted free law advocates to collect PACER documents and make them available for free online.
The Free Law Project now has more than 20 million federal court documents in its archive. Last year, the projected announced that it had posted every free written opinion and order available on PACER.
With the archive, anyone can access judges' decisions without the "restrictive terms and conditions" of for-profit, legal research vendors, collaborator Charlotte Alexander told the ABA Journal.
In addition to eliminating fees, the new bill would require documents be posted on PACER within five days of being filed in court. It would also consolidate the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system.
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