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Legal Metadata and Research

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Legal Metadata and Research

In legal research and document retriaval, we can assume the use of data (documents) and metadata (citations, annotations, popularity and interaction information). Since its inception one of the aims of legal informatics has been to provide tools to support and improve the day to day activities of legal and normative practice.

For more information about metadata and legal research, see legal metadata.

Legal Ontology

In their article, “A Web Ontology for Copyright Contract Management”, (1) Roberto García  and Rosa Gil, from the Lleida Univesity  (Spain), utilized a Semantic Web ontology that conceptualizes the copyright domain, to establish “a common interoperability ground and means that incorporate user rights. The ontology provides building blocks for flexible machine-understandable copyright contracts that can readily be implemented because of the easy reusability of Semantic Web tools.”

In their opinion, the main problems of  traditional digital rights management were the lack of interoperability, ignorance of user rights, and implementation costs.

Legal Metadata

In the paper “Examples of Specialized Legal Metadata Adapted to the Digital Environment, from the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations”(2), authored by Robert C. Richards Jr. (Pennsylvania State University, Department of Communication Arts and Sciences) and Thomas Robert Bruce (Legal Information Institute), presents a case study of one such tool – the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations’ Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules, which links each statute to its corresponding regulations. Through examples of XML and RDF/OWL markup, the paper shows how such a tool might be adapted successfully to the electronic domain.

The context is based on the idea that ” Among print-based U.S. legal information resources, specialized tools that link discrete types of metadata substantially improve the efficiency of legal research. Many of these tools could be of considerable utility in the electronic information environment. However, many such tools require thorough redesign in order to make them optimally usable by digital systems.”

In their opinion, as a recommendations for a digital Parallel Table of Authorities and Rules (PTOA), created by the U.S. Government, the following changes should be made in order to preparing the PTOA for optimal digital performance:

  • “Respecting metadata, the PTOA should be marked up in XML, and the semantic value of PTOA citations, the relationships between them, and other associated metadata, all should be encoded in RDF/OWL. In particular, topical metadata from a controlled legal vocabulary” (for example, a legal thesaurus, like the legal thesaurus) is strongly recommended to be added.
  • “Respecting semantics, each occurrence of each type of relationship should be described in a separate entry, each specifying a relationship type”.
  • “Respecting granularity, relationships between legal authorities and their corresponding regulations should be described at the level of specificity—often the section or subsection level—that accurately reflects the meaning of the relationship”.
  • “Respecting directionality, the PTOA should be designed so that queries may be made from rules to authorities as well as from authorities to rules.”
  • It “should include statements that help the user… assess the quality of what she is seeing.” Adding “metadata to the PTOA that would represent the editors’ level of confidence in information received from elsewhere.”


  1. García, R. and Gil, R. 2008. A Web ontology for copyright contracts management. Int. J. Electron. Comm. 12, 4 (Sum. 2008), 99-114.
  2. June 14, 2011. 12th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research, June 2011. Available at

Further Reading

  • Peter Jackson and Khalid Al-Kofahi, “Human Expertise and Artificial Intelligence in Legal Search,” in Structuring of Legal Semantics, A. Geist, C. R. Brunschwig, F. Lachmayer, G. Schefbeck Eds., Festschrift ed. for Erich Schweighofer, Editions Weblaw, Bern, 2011
  • Bennett, D. and Harvey, A. 2009. Publishing Open Government Data: W3C Working Draft 8 September 2009. World Wide Web Consortium.
  • Boer, A. 2009. The Agile project (late 2008-2010). Presentation given at Jacquard Bijeenkomst 2009 (The Hague, The Netherlands, December 11, 2009).
  • Boer, A. and Van Engers, T. 2009. The Agile project: Reconciling agility and legal accountability. In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on ICT Solutions for Justice (Skopje, Macedonia, September 24, 2009). ICT4JUSTICE ’09. CEUR Workshop Proceedings 582. CEUR, Aachen, Germany, 41-49.
  • Bontouri, L., Papatheodorou, C., Soulikias, V., and Stratis, M. 2009. Metadata interoperability in public sector information. J. Inform. Sci. 35, 2 (Apr. 2009), 204-231.
  • Dabney, D. P. 1986. The curse of Thamus: An analysis of full-text legal document retrieval. Law Libr. J. 78, 1 (Win. 1986), 5-40.
  • Dini, L., Peters, W., Liebwald, D., Schweighofer, E., Mommers, L., and Voermans, W. 2005. Cross-lingual legal information retrieval using a WordNet architecture. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law (Bologna, Italy, June 06 – 11, 2007). ICAIL ’05. ACM, New York, NY, 163-167.
  • Ekstrom, J. A. and Lau, G. T. 2008. Exploratory text mining of ocean law to measure overlapping agency and jurisdictional authority. In Proceedings of the 9th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research (Montreal, Canada, May 18 – 21, 2008). dg.o ’08. ACM, New York, NY, 53-62.
  • Francesconi, E., Montemagni, S., Peters, W., and Tiscornia, D., Eds. 2010. Semantic Processing of Legal Texts: Where the Language of Law Meets the Law of Language. Springer, Berlin.
  • Krippendorff, K. 2004. Content Analysis: An Introduction to Its Methodology (2nd ed.). Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.
  • Marchetti, A., Megale, F., Seta, E., and Vitali, F. 2002. Using XML as a means to access legislative documents: Italian and foreign experiences. ACM SIGAPP Appl. Comput. Rev. 10, 1 (Spring 2002), 54-62.
  • Mersky, R. M. and Dunn, D. J. 2002. Fundamentals of Legal Research. 8th ed. Foundation Press, New York, NY.
  • Nadah, N., Dulong de Rosnay, M., and Bachimont, B. 2007. Licensing digital content with a generic ontology: Escaping from the jungle of rights expression languages. In Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Law (Stanford, California, June 04 – 08, 2007). ICAIL ’07. ACM, New York, NY, 65-69.
  • Ortiz-Rodríguez, F. 2007. EGODO and applications: Sharing, retrieving and exchanging legal documentation across e-government. In Proceedings of the Workshop on Semantic Web Technology for Law (Stanford, California, June 08, 2007). SW4Law ’07. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Department of Computer Science, Amsterdam, 21-26.
  • Robinson, D. G., Yu, H., Zeller, W., and Felten, E. W. 2009. Government data and the invisible hand. Yale J. Law & Technol. 11, 1 (Fall 2009), 160-175.

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