Is free legal information really free?

Susan Munro Director of Publications at CLEBC has written an interesting piece on the SLAW blog called "Free legal information, really?"  in the blog post Susan looks at how information that has been published to the web that is supposedly free might in reality not be.

From Susan's blog post "The truth of the matter is that free is not really free. There’s plenty of legal information on the Internet. But it’s not really free. Someone is paying to put it there. And there’s a lot of expense associated with publishing specialized information on the Internet; technology has a significant cost associated"

Susan makes some really good points about some of the very valuable "free" resources, which we're actually paying for. In the UK for example we have BAILLI which although a fantastic resource has recently had to appeal for funds to ensure the good work it does continue. It's absolutely crucial that this resource continues and I'm sure ALL Law Librarians and a lot of practitioners would agree with me.

Susan then goes on to look at the differences between making primary and secondary legal material available for free online. "When we’re thinking about free information online, it’s important to distinguish between primary and secondary material. Free secondary legal information is also available online in the many legal blogs now published. These blogs are usually a marketing vehicle showcasing the legal expertise of the author. They are easy to set up using an interface such as WordPress. Some blogs are marvelous; others less so. The best that can be said is that the quality is inconsistent; there is certainly no guarantee of accuracy."

Finally Susan asks whether free legal information is or will ever be a real threat to online subscription products. "Is free material a serious threat to our online subscription products? In a column last year, I wrote about the use of wikis and other collaborative resources for legal publication. My conclusion that lawyers would continue to pay for authoritative and accurate secondary legal information hasn’t changed. But ensuring the accuracy of that information has a cost. And I continue to believe that having subscribers bear the cost of developing and publishing secondary information is still the best model for us"

This is a really interesting blog post which is well worth reading for the thoughts of an individual that provides both primary and secondary legal information.