On 12th August 2010 Kieran Morgan and James Gorman launched the beta version of their legal research search engine Qudoc. Kieran and James teamed up to embark on this technological adventure, having been friends since attending the same high school.
It took 12 months for them to reach this incredible milestone. They succeeded in creating a lightning-fast, Google-type search engine that delivers results from websites about Australian law.
Shortly after reaching this milestone they faced a serious hurdle to realising their goal. The hurdle had nothing to do with overcoming technical challenges. They were blocked from making searchable AustLII’s database of case law.
Their goal was to provide a search engine that delivered results from websites containing legislation, commentary and case law. AustLII allowed them to access their legislation database and journal articles but not their database of case law.
Qudoc is based in Sydney’s inner-west suburb of Leichhardt. They describe their company as consisting “of 2 full time staff and a small army of helpers, friends, girlfriends and contractors”.
Kieran Morgan describes his colleague James Gorman as a ‘geek extraordinaire’. James is the senior programmer and technical architect. He is a specialist in Computational Linguistics and Information Retrieval, also known as the science of search engines.
Part of Kieran’s inspiration for developing such a search engine came from his seven year background in the legal publishing industry, mainly working as a product manager.
Kieran identified that conventional search engines such as Google bring in too wide a pool of results. According to Kieran “Qudoc automatically filters legal information into categories such as subject, jurisdiction and so on, saving research time. It uses another set of purpose-built algorithms to show citations between documents. For example, with one click you can find the latest secondary articles that cite any given section of any given Australian act or regulation.”
Why has Qudoc been blocked from accessing AustLII’s repository of case law?
Professor Graham Greenleaf, Co-Director of AustLII explains:
“AustLII had no objection to spidering of AustLII ’s legislation and law journal articles for the purpose of making them searchable through a search engine. That appears to be what Qudoc have done, and AustLII has no problem with it.”
“However, AustLII does not allow web spidering by search engines of its case law, by anyone. This is primarily in order to balance privacy protection against open justice. AustLII’s robot exclusion has excluded spidering of case law since AustLII was started. AustLII enforces this policy. If you check Australian courts or tribunals that publish their own cases, you will find that they also block spiders. AustLII must act consistently with their policies. As a result, you cannot find Australian case law from legal publishers or these courts via search engines, including Google.”
How has Qudoc responded to this hurdle?
“Our response was to ask if there was anything we could do to alleviate this concern – for example requiring anyone attempting to access cases to be a registered member of Qudoc, or a confirmed member of the legal profession and so on, but unfortunately they didn’t find any option we proposed suitable” said Kieran Morgan.
“We will definitely be pursuing the option of publishing cases if our funding (and the courts) permits. Unfortunately this will take some time and money which is why we’d hoped to use AustLII. We prefer to be in the search rather than the publishing game.”
“However, in encouraging signs we have talked to the High Court and they have indicated that they’re happy for us to publish their cases online.”
The High Court informed Qudoc:
“The High Court holds the copyrights in all its decisions and transcripts of hearings published on the AustLII website, and permits the reproduction of this material.”
“If you reproduced material from AustLII it must be used in an appropriate context and be reproduced accurately without distortion of meaning. The source of the material must be recognised through the inclusion of an acknowledgement and disclaimer in the following terms: ‘All material herein is reproduced by permission and does not purport to be the official versions of the material. The material is subject to Commonwealth copyright’.”
The goal of free
From the outset, Kieran and James have intended that access to their search engine be free of charge, in the same way that Google provides free access to its search engine.
They have thought about possible business models and about how their innovation could be self-funding and even profitable. To date however, most of their efforts have been put into proving and refining their technical innovation. You can try it out for yourself at www.qudoc.com.au.