Not long ago, someone who wanted a copy of a court document had to travel to the courthouse where that particular case resided, ask a clerk to make a copy, and pay a typically steep copying fee. That’s still true in most court systems in this country and abroad, but not in the federal courts.

Remote electronic access to court records, first offered two decades ago by some federal courts, has been available for some time in every federal trial and bankruptcy court and, most recently, every court of appeals. In 2008, there were more than 360 million requests for electronic access to information from the more than 33 million federal cases that have documents online.

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