Carl Malamud has been bothered for 25 years by the fact that U.S. case law is locked away from the public’s eyes. As a wonkish graduate student at the Indiana University School of Business in the 1980s, he was forced on occasion to sneak into the law school library to look something up — because the library was for law professors and law students only.
In the years that followed Malamud has scored an extraordinary track record at getting information into the public domain. Thanks to him and other digital activists, in the mid-1990s the Securities and Exchange Commission put the financial filings of public companies online. In the late 1990s, due in part to aggressive lobbying by Malamud, the Patent and Trademark Office made the full database of granted patents and trademarks available and searchable online. Recently, as part of his effort to get the Smithsonian Institution to free up access to its collection of historical images, Malamud bought and downloaded 6,000 images and posted them on the free Web-sharing service Flickr.