West Publishing Fights Proposed Public Cataloging System
Brasher, Philip, THE JOURNAL RECORD
WASHINGTON -- For decades, West Publishing Co. has served as the unofficial librarian for the nation's federal and state courts by organizing their rulings in book and electronic form.
But now lawyers, consumer groups and West's competitors are pressing the federal judiciary to set up a public cataloging system that anyone could use without paying West. Several small publishing firms want to make the rulings available on computer disks that could be readily used by lawyers.
That would "lower prices significantly and make the process more efficient," Joel Klein, head of the Justice Department's antitrust division, argued last week before a panel of judges representing the U.S. Judicial Conference. The Judicial Conference, which serves as the board of trustees for the federal judiciary, is considering a cataloging system proposed by the American Bar Association. Unlike the West system, the new format would not be copyrighted. Judges have overwhelmingly opposed the idea, saying it would be cumbersome for them to adopt. West, based in Eagan, Minn., demands royalties from rival publishers that want to use its cataloging system and has worked for years to prevent courts from going to another method of organizing rulings. West contributes heavily to federal campaigns and has provided judges with trips and other favors. …