The Publishers of Baby Blue Throw Caution to the Wind to Bring Legal Citation into the Public Domain

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation is a 511-page quasi-authoritative source of legal citation formats published by the Harvard Law Review Association working together with the Columbia Law Review Association, Inc., The Yale Law Journal Company, Inc., and the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. The Bluebook describes itself as “the definitive guide for legal citation in the United States” on which “generations [of] law students, lawyers, scholars, judges, and other legal professionals have relied.”1 NYU Law School professor Chris Sprigman, Carl Malamud of PublicResource.org, and students at NYU Law School2 are looking to challenge those assertions with a new, open-source citation system named Baby Blue’s Manual of Legal Citation, or Baby Blue for short, that they claim will bring legal citation into the public domain.

In an interview published November 25, 2015, in the NYU Journal of Intellectual Property & Entertainment Law, Professor Sprigman said the goal was to “re-express The Bluebook’s uniform system of citation . . . in a simpler, more compact way that is fully compatible with The Bluebook version, just easier to use, more accessible, and free of copyright restrictions.”3 Baby Blue was released on February 9, 2016, for “a period of public review.”4

For months leading up to the release of Baby Blue, a copyright and trademark fracas has been heating up between Malamud, Sprigman, and the publishers of The Bluebook. The latest jab was a letter to Malamud and Sprigman from a lawyer with the firm of Ropes & Gray, who represents the Harvard Law Review Association, on December 24, 2015, threatening copyright and trademark infringement actions should Baby Blue be published.5 The letter came in response to a tweet from @carlmalamud on December 22, 2015, indicating the release of Baby Blue was imminent (see picture above).

The threat of impending lawsuits did not prevent the publication of Baby Blue; however, it did delay it. In an open letter sent to his fellow law professors in early February, Sprigman sought support for the project, noting:

The work, which I’ve named #‎BabyBlue, is now done, but we’re holding it, because the Harvard Law Review Association has hired counsel and is threatening to sue (me, and Carl Malamud of PublicResource.org, the publisher).6

In response, students from Stanford, Yale, NYU, and Harvard signed petitions supporting the open-source future of legal citation.7 In the petition that circulated at Harvard, the students alluded to their displeasure with the actions of the Harvard Law Review Association, stating:

At Harvard Law, one of the schools affiliated with a publication claiming a copyright interest in the Bluebook, we have a special obligation to make this system accessible. When Baby Blue enters a period of public review, we look forward to offering our help and feedback. We encourage law students across the country to join us.8

If that wasn’t clear enough, Kendra Albert, a 3L at Harvard wrote the following in The Harvard Law Record:

The intellectual property claims that the HLR Association made may or may not be spurious. But independent of that, the tactics employed by the HLR Association’s counsel in dealing with Mr. Malamud and Prof. Sprigman are deplorable. The Harvard Law Review claims to be an organization that promotes knowledge and access to legal scholarship. It is a venerated part of the traditions of Harvard Law School. But these actions by the Harvard Law Review speak of competition and not of justice. . . . [A]ny legal action against BabyBlue for copyright or trademark infringement will retrench the narrative that the Harvard Law Review Association is more interested in its own profits than in access to legal citation. And given a choice between an implementation of a system that is open and freely available, like BabyBlue, and one that has pursued legal action to silence competing implementations, many users may choose to move away from the Bluebook.9

To date, there hasn’t been a response from the Harvard Law Review Association to the publication of Baby Blue. So, for now, we will have to wait and see if they follow through on the threatened legal action, or listen to the calls from students, academics, and legal professionals to allow free and open access to the language of the law. Well, the legal citation rules at least.

 

  1. Columbia Law Review Ass’n et al., The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, Introduction (19th ed. 2011).
  2. Baby Blue is attributed to "Sprigman et anon. al." (There’s an abbreviation you don't see every day.)
  3. Kayla Wieche, Baby Blue: A Bluebook Compatible Citation System in the Public Domain, NYU Journal of Intellectual Property & Entertainment Law (November 25, 2015), http://blog.jipel.law.nyu.edu/2015/11/baby-blue-a-bluebook-compatible-citation-system-in-the-public-domain/.
  4. Baby Blue is available at https://law.resource.org/pub/us/code/blue/BabyBlue.20160205.pdf.
  5. A copy of the letter can be found at https://law.resource.org/pub/us/code/blue/harvard.response.20151224.pdf.
  6. David Post, The new (and much improved) ‘Bluebook’ caught in the copyright cross-hairs, The Volokh Conspiracy (February 9, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/02/09/the-new-and-much-improved-bluebook-caught-in-the-copyright-cross-hairs/.
  7. Copies of each of the petitions can be found in the following directory at Public.Resource.Org https://law.resource.org/pub/us/code/blue/.
  8. The complete petition can be found at https://law.resource.org/pub/us/code/blue/harvard.response.20160212.pdf.
  9. Kendra Albert, Harvard Law Review Should Welcome Free Citation Manual, Not Threaten Lawsuits, The Harvard Law Record (February 12, 2016), http://hlrecord.org/2016/02/harvard-law-review-should-welcome-free-citation-manual-not-threaten-lawsuits/.

 

Image from Carl Malamud Twitter feed @carlmalamud.

Comments

Comments

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.