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More on Open Source Casebooks (They Already Exist)

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Yesterday, on our Greedy Associates blog, we sang the praises of hypothetical open source casebooks as an alternative to publishers' ridiculous $200 tomes, especially when publishers are considering adopting a leasing model to kill the used book market.

Well, it turns out that open source casebooks aren't so hypothetical after all. We stumbled on one, then another, then another yesterday afternoon. Here they are, from most feature-packed and promising to "good efforts."

CALI's eLangdell Project: Every Format Imaginable

One of the keys to widespread adoption of casebooks is format flexibility. Personally, I enjoy reading books on my now ancient Android tablet. Apple folks might prefer an iBook, while Amazon fans will appreciate a Kindle book. And for those who like to build outlines as they read, the PDF and Word formats are perfect for side-by-siding on a computer, allowing you to copy and paste chunks directly into your outline.

CALI provides its eLangdell (get it?) casebooks in a ton of digital formats, all for free. And if you are the hard-copy, tree-killing type, you can get a paper copy for between $8 and $20, depending on the heft of the book and the preferred binding.

How did CALI do it? Bribery. From the lecture below, it seems they pay professors to write books and chapters, just like the big publishers do. But instead of adding a massive markup, the non-profit gives the books away for free.

The only thing CALI is missing, so far as we can tell, would be a cloud-based solution (read on the go, add bookmarks, notes that sync with your computer for later outlining) and more books. Hopefully professors can help with that latter part.

Another idea would be customizable books for professors, allowing them to reorder or customize materials on the fly. Of course, that can always be done with CALI's Word files, but that removes the options for Kindle, iBooks, ePubs, and other formats.

Semaphore Press

Pay What You Want (PWYW). It's a business model that asks customers to pay what they think the product is worth. Radiohead's In Rainbows album might be the most notable example of a commercial product released under this mantra, but the trend is catching on, both in software (Ubuntu Linux, for example) and in law school casebooks.

Semaphore Press is a project by Professors Lydia Pallas Loren and Joseph Scott Miller which publishes casebooks on a PWYW model. The books can be downloaded by freeriders, or downloaders can choose to pay for the books, with a suggested price of $30.

So far, the results have been promising: approximately 83 percent of students enrolled in classes where a Semaphore book was assigned paid for the book.

Harvard H20*

Our initial attempts to try out H20 were thwarted by copyright laws and a Harvard login. However, thanks to a timely tweet, we got to take a peek at Harvard's modern take on the free casebook.

Professors create "playlists" of PDF materials, allowing them to create and customize their own versions of casebooks. It's more than a casebook, however -- Stanford Law Professor Pam Karlan's Torts lessons incorporate YouTube videos, article excerpts, and caselaw, which is a way more stimulating "remix" than the traditional print on a page.

Old School: HTML Pages and Downloadable Papers

These are less exciting, because of their formatting (a dated webpage and a downloadable SSRN paper), but they deserve honorable mentions nonetheless, because, well, free.

Learning Law in Cyberspace is a website instead of a casebook and has a ton of authors (including Prof. Loren from Semaphore Press). And Professor Thomas Field's Introduction to Administrative Process is available for download on SSRI in PDF format. The now-retired professor used to update the volume annually, though the most recent version we were able to locate was from 2011.

What 'killer' features would you like to see in free online casebooks? Did we miss a source of free legal tomes? Tweet us @FindLawLP.

*Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the H20 project was Harvard-only. Due to copyright restrictions, some materials are behind a login wall, while others are not. The article was updated after we were tipped off about a few open playlists.

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