URIs for Courts

As metadata standards for case law evolve, it will be necessary to identify certain entities, such as courts, in an unambiguous way.  The simplest way to achive this is by adopting a standardized vocabulary.

URIs on the Semantic Web

The RDF / Semantic Web community has developed the concept of the URI as an identifier for non-document entities such as people and organizations.  See, for example, Cool URIs for the Semantic Web.

Current best-practices suggest using "303 redirect" HTTP URIs as identifiers for non-document entities.  For example, a URI such as http://id.example.com/bob might identify the person Bob.  An HTTP request to http://id.example.com/bob would return "HTTP 303 See Other" along with a "Location" header giving the URI of a document describing Bob. That document could be HTML, RDF, or any other format requested by the client.  It's important to note that http://id.example.com/bob never returns a document itself, since Bob is not a document.  Nor should we use the URI of a document about Bob, such as http://bobs.homepage.com/, as an identifier for Bob the person.

Ideally, some authority would publish a list of canonical URIs for all the courts within a given jurisdiction.  But this is not necessary to begin using URIs as unambiguous identifiers.  Semantic Web standards such as OWL support a sameAs relation -- a declaration that two URIs identify the same entity.  Using sameAs declarations, it is possibly for one repository to create its own court URIs and later connect them to URIs used by other repositories.

Example Implementation

AltLaw provides Semantic Web URIs under the id.altlaw.org domain.  These URIs redirect to pages on www.altlaw.org in either HTML or RDF.  The RDF versions declare owl:sameAs relations to URIs at dbpedia.org, the Semantic Web counterpart to Wikipedia.

A few examples:

A list of courts supported by this scheme is available at http://www.altlaw.org/courts

This service is experimental and subject to change.