Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Wrestling Lawsuit Research Tutorial

I was recently contacted by someone asking about what resources I use for my legal research on professional wrestling lawsuits. I'll share what I've learned in this process.

The "subscription" service is http://pacer.gov  which is an online database of federal lawsuits which can be searched and documents can be viewed at the cost of about 10 cents per page. Many lawsuits have a 30 page limit (meaning that a 50 page filing only costs $3.00) but transcripts are an exception that. Records are mostly digitized consistently from mid-2000s to now, but sometimes it goes back further. The good news is that people have been attacking the issue of expensive PACER costs for awhile.

The best resource is RECAP which is a plug-in to your browser.
https://free.law/recap
What RECAP does is that every time someone downloads a document off PACER it makes a copy of it and uploads it to the internet archive for free.
So if a lawsuit has been viewed by someone who has the RECAP extension installed, you can view it for free. The plug-in will show you a little (R) around any document that is already available for free when you're browsing PACER if you have the extension installed.

In addition, you can search on various websites for the lawsuits that have been already uploaded by RECAP -- for instance:
https://www.courtlistener.com/recap/

Next resource I recommend is Google Scholar ( https://scholar.google.com/  )
Putting in court cases that you're looking for often will turn up here there's even a choice of "case law" on the search screen.
So far, we've been looking at Federal Court cases. Obviously, not all court cases are Federal. For state cases, it gets a lot trickier.

Each state is different. You usually have to start with the county that the lawsuit was filed in and look for their local court system and check for civil lawsuits.
Florida is really complex with almost every county being treated separately.
A state like CT is easier because almost everything is on a single website.
NY is a bit of hybrid -- stuff is there and they have OCR Google set up, but it can be cumbersome negotiating everything on there.

Alternatively, sometimes FOIA (freedom of information act) or FOIL (freedom of information law) can be used if there's a state/gov't agency involved.

When it comes to copyrights and trademarks, I'd start at http://uspto.gov  -- I've spent most of my time looking up trademarks so I can only speak that side of the searches.

I've also had good luck finding cases at places like https://www.unitedstatescourts.org/

Beware that many websites will list the docket sheet for a case but it comes to actual exhibits, it's going to try to send you to PACER (or worse charge you directly and then go to pacer themselves) to get the file.

Last thing, sometimes the docket sheet on RECAP isn't updated at the same rate as the documents that have been uploaded. Therefore, if you're looking at docket on RECAP like Bagwell v WWE ( http://ia601902.us.archive.org/26/items/gov.uscourts.ctd.113394/gov.uscourts.ctd.113394.docket.html ), I recommend taking off the html part and looking at the root directory ( http://ia601902.us.archive.org/26/items/gov.uscourts.ctd.113394/ ) and you can see all of the PDFs that have been uploaded.

Beyond that, I spend a lot of time using google or similar search engines looking for filetype:pdf with the search terms that I think will be interesting. Case filings are almost always in PDF format and I throw in things like "district court" or specific terms that I figure will be used in the lawsuit like "breach of contract" and wade through all the hits.

Patience is key. And keep in mind that many OCR engines are going to mistake certain phrases from manual scans (like WWE becoming \VWE) so make sure you keep varying your search terms. In addition, I often use the date limits on my searches and look for just new PDFs that have emerged in the last month between searches so I can keep scouring for important information.

If you find a law school article which references material that you're interested, look for that author on twitter or email them to see if they can help with your research. I've found a lot of people are very generous and helpful if you approach them respectfully.

Lastly, share what you find online. Install RECAP. Upload documents to Scribd or other websites. Talk about them on Twitter. Create a google drive and share with interested friends and researchers.

@mookieghana

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