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Manual of Legal Citation/Foreword and Introduction
In 2011, Frank Bennett, a law professor at Nagoya University in Japan, wrote to me about open source software he was developing that he now maintains under the name of Juris-M. Professor Bennett’s work is an extended variant of an amazingly useful tool called Zotero that is created by developers around the world who want to support scholars in their efforts to “organize, cite, and share research sources.” Frank added features to Zotero that support legal writing.
Professor Bennett was two years into work on his project when he contacted the Harvard Law Review Association concerning the use, in electronic form, of common abbreviations for U.S. sources as specified in The Bluebook. He was repeatedly rebuffed with stern “keep off the grass” warnings. I examined those abbreviations, and they are clearly facts that could only be expressed in one way. Not only are these abbreviations devoid of creativity, they are required by many legal jurisdictions in the United States before one can plead a case of law before judges. So, I posted those abbreviations on my web site, and promptly received my own “keep off the grass” missive from an outside law firm hired by the Harvard Law Review.
It is important to understand, when we are talking about The Bluebook, A Uniform System of Citation, that we are talking about two different things. There is a product, a spiral-bound booklet that sells for $38.50, which is accompanied by a rudimentary web site available to purchasers of the product.
Underlying that product, however, is something much more basic and fundamental, a uniform system of citation. Unpaid volunteers from a dozen law schools, under the stewardship of four nonprofit student-run law reviews, have labored mightily to reach a consensus standard for the citation of legal materials. This open consensus standard was developed, with no compensation to the authors, for the greater benefit of the legal system of the United States. By clearly and precisely referring to primary legal materials, we are able to communicate our legal reasoning to others, including pleading a case in the courts, advocating changes in legal policy in our legislatures or law reviews, or simply communicating the law to our fellow citizens so that we may be better informed.
We do not begrudge the Harvard Law Review Association one penny of the revenue from the sale of their spiral-bound book dressed in blue. However, we must not confuse the book with the system. There can be no proprietary claim over knowledge and facts, and there is no intellectual property right in the system and method of our legal machinery. The infrastructure of our legal system is a public utility, and belongs to all of us.
As Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig has famously stated, “code is law.” The system of citation is code, an algorithm consisting of rules and a set of enumerations of text strings and their proper abbreviations. This is code about law.
In thinking of The Bluebook, I have been reminded of Big Blue, the IBM corporation. IBM made a fortune selling Genuine IBM personal computers, but this did not prevent others from making clones that were able to exercise the instructions in the underlying chipset. When technology changed the nature of the computer industry, IBM did not spend its days trying to defend an outdated mode of operation and instead moved up the food chain. The company has grown and prospered because of the computing revolution and the Internet instead of trying to preserve an outdated position of economic power that could not last.
Likewise, I wish the Harvard Law Review Association and their three companion law reviews the best in continuing to sell their Genuine Blue spiral-bound book and any associated on-line services. However, that cannot mean prohibiting an open source developer from using common abbreviations, and it certainly does not imply any ownership or control over how, in our democracy, we communicate the law with our fellow citizens. I hope you will enjoy The Indigo Book: A Manual of Legal Citation and that you will join me in extending my congratulations to Professor Sprigman and his students on the excellent job they have performed in re-coding those rules.
Welcome to The Indigo Book—a free, Creative Commons-dedicated implementation of The Bluebook’s Uniform System of Citation. The Indigo Book was compiled by a team of students at the New York University School of Law, working under the direction of Professor Christopher Jon Sprigman.
The Indigo Book isn’t the same as The Bluebook, but it does implement the same Uniform System of Citation that The Bluebook does. The scope of The Indigo Book’s coverage is roughly equivalent to The Bluebook’s “Bluepages”—that is, The Indigo Book covers legal citation for U.S. legal materials, as well as books, periodicals, and Internet and other electronic resources. In addition, The Indigo Book offers citation guidance that is deeper than The Bluebook’s Bluepages—for example, The Indigo Book has citation guidance for bills, and for legislative history, that the Bluepages lack. For the materials that it covers, anyone using The Indigo Book will produce briefs, memoranda, law review articles, and other legal documents with citations that are compatible with the Uniform System of Citation.
Note that The Indigo Book’s scope does not extend to (now virtually unused) loose-leaf reporters, nor to foreign legal materials or the publications of international organizations like the United Nations. Most American lawyers cite these materials only rarely, and providing citation rules for the enormous number of international jurisdictions is part of what makes The Bluebook as unwieldy as it has become.
The Indigo Book offers a couple of important advantages to users, compared with The Bluebook. Unlike The Bluebook, The Indigo Book is free. Free in two different ways that are equally important. First, The Indigo Book is given to you free of charge. Considering that the Uniform System of Citation has become a basic piece of infrastructure for the American system of justice, it is vital that pro se litigants, prisoners, and others seeking justice but who lack resources are given effective access to the system lawyers use to cite to the law. That interest in access and basic fairness is part of what motivated The Indigo Book’s creation.
Second, and perhaps even more importantly, The Indigo Book is free of the restrictions of copyright. You are free to copy and distribute this work, and—most importantly—to improve on it. This is important, because we want people with a stake in our legal citation system to help make that system simpler and better. To achieve these goals, we are releasing The Indigo Book under a Creative Commons “CC0” public domain dedication that allows you to use it, copy it, distribute it, and—we hope—improve it.
So, what sorts of improvement do we hope for? This original edition of The Indigo Book is compatible with the current, 20th edition of The Bluebook. We will admit, however, that our decision to make The Indigo Book compatible with The Bluebook’s Uniform System of Citation was mostly self-interested and strategic—we want people to adopt The Indigo Book, and the best way to achieve that goal, we reasoned, was to give people a citation guide that they could use to produce documents that look as if they used The Bluebook.
We think this is the right path, at least initially, but please understand that our decision to make The Indigo Book Bluebook-compatible doesn’t stop you from doing otherwise. There are ways to improve The Indigo Book that involve breaking free of The Bluebook. Indeed, in some ways the recent editions of The Bluebook have adopted an unhelpfully over-prescriptive approach to citation that has resulted in needless complexity. It wasn’t always that way. Back in 1959, the 10th edition of The Bluebook declared that “[t]he primary purpose of a citation is to facilitate finding and identifying the authority cited. The rules set forth in this booklet should not be considered invariable. Whenever clarity will be served, the citation form should be altered without hesitation; whenever a citation would not amplify the identification of the authority referred to, no citation should be given.”
That sounds right to us. Can we get back to a more sensible, flexible system of legal citation? The Indigo Book takes the first step by restating the Uniform System of Citation for U.S. legal materials, and for books, periodicals, and Internet and other electronic resources. The next step is up to you. Take The Indigo Book, use it, enjoy it, improve it—maybe you international lawyers out there will add coverage of foreign and international law? Then, consistent with the spirit of our project—give your improvements to the world.
New York University School of Law