RECAP is software which allows users to automatically search for free copies of documents during a search in the fee-based online U.S. federal court document database PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records), and to help build up a free alternative database. It was created in 2009 by a team from Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy and Harvard University's Berkman Center, and is now maintained as part of the Free Law Project. The name "RECAP" derives from "PACER", spelled backward.
RECAP is available as a Mozilla Firefox add-on and Google Chrome extension: free.law/recap. For each PACER document, the software will first check if it has already been uploaded by another user. If no free version exists and the user purchases the document from PACER, it will automatically upload a copy to the RECAP server, thereby building the database. The original RECAP implementation uploaded documents to the Internet Archive; as of late 2017, the Free Law Project version now uploads documents to the Free Law Project (specifically courtlistener.com), with a promise to mirror that data to the Internet Archive on a quarterly basis.
PACER continued charging per page fees after the introduction of RECAP.
After the introduction of RECAP, activist Aaron Swartz set up an automatic download from an official library entry point to PACER. Swartz downloaded 2.7 million documents, all public domain, representing less than 1 percent of the documents in PACER. These public domain documents were later uploaded to RECAP and made available to the public for free. However, the automated downloading triggered a government investigation. No criminal charges were filed, because PACER had provided lawful access and the documents copied were in the public domain, and the case was closed.
Some courts have acknowledged RECAP's free distribution of documents. A small handful of PACER users receive fee-exempt access (fee waivers are granted on a district-by-district basis), and a condition of the fee waiver generally requires that fee exempt users not further distribute documents they receive under the waiver, pursuant to Judicial Conference policy. Some courts such as the District Court for the District of Massachusetts display a prominent reminder on the ECF home page: "fee exempt PACER users must refrain from the use of RECAP".
- Center for Information Technology Policy (2013). "RECAP Documents Now More Searchable Via Internet Archive". RECAP The Law. Archived from the original on 1 June 2016. Retrieved 2013-05-31.
- Johnson, Bobbie (11 November 2009). "Recap: cracking open US courtrooms". The Guardian. London.
- McCullagh, Declan (August 14, 2009). "Plug-in opens up federal courts, with your help". CNET. Retrieved May 16, 2017.
- Lissner, Michael (13 November 2017). "The Next Version of RECAP is Now Live". Retrieved 5 March 2018.
- Singel, Ryan (October 5, 2009). "FBI Investigated Coder for Liberating Paywalled Court Records". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved January 12, 2013.
- Lee, Timothy B. (2013-02-08). "The inside story of Aaron Swartz's campaign to liberate court filings". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2013-05-31.
- Lissner, Michael (13 April 2017). "A Complete Chronology of PACER Fees and Policies". Retrieved 5 March 2018.
- "CM/ECF - USDC Massachusetts - Version 5.1.1 as of 12/5/2011-United States District Court".