Courts add fee for online files

Federal Register notice

Starting in July, the public and agencies will have to pay a fee to view case files provided online by a new U.S. Courts system, according to a Federal Register notice published Tuesday.

The courts will charge users 7 cents per page for files accessed through the Case Management/Electronic Case Files system.

The fee did not apply while several bankruptcy courts piloted the system, but as courts deploy the first full version, the Electronic Public Access program will start collecting the per-page fee, according to the notice. Deployment begins in July and is scheduled to be implemented in all federal courts by 2005.

The courts expect to collect about $12 million this fiscal year, and the money will go to operations and maintenance of the system, said Dick Carelli, U.S. Courts spokesman.

As district courts and courts of appeals start deploying the CM/ECF system during the next two years, their case files also will be subject to the fee.

The fee structure has been in place since 1998. "Those that have availed themselves of the electronic case files through [CM/ECF system during the pilot] have been doing it for free, but they have known there would be a fee," Carelli said. "This should come as no surprise to anyone."

Nevertheless, any time a fee is placed on a government records-viewing service, it is a big deal, and many organizations are watching this development, said Patrice McDermott, analyst at public policy organization OMB Watch.

Parties involved in the legal matter under consideration will receive their first copy of all files for free.

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