From Blue to Indigo to …


A New Citation Guide

A legal citation guide of a different hue, The Indigo Book, arrived on the scene this spring. Like the University Chicago Law Review’s Maroonbook, it was born of frustration over The Bluebook – but frustration of a very different kind.  The Maroonbook, first published in the late 1980s, still followed and revised by the University of Chicago Law Review, aimed to supplant The Bluebook’s complex and detailed dictates with “a simple, malleable framework for citation, which authors and editors can tailor to suit their purposes.”  In contrast, The Indigo Book, seeks to pry loose those very dictates, or at least the subset most important for participation in U.S. legal proceedings, from the intellectual property claims made by The Bluebook’s proprietors.

Working under the guidance of NYU copyright expert, Professor Christopher Sprigman, a team of students spent over a year meticulously separating the “system of citation” reflected in The Bluebook from that manual’s expressive content – its language, examples, and organization.  The Indigo Book is the result.  Like the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation, first published in 2000, it endeavors to instruct those who would write legal briefs or memoranda on how to cite U.S. legal materials in complete conformity with the system of citation codified in the most recent edition of The Bluebook while avoiding infringement of that work’s copyright.

Unlike the ALWD Guide, which competes with The Bluebook for a share of the lucrative legal education market at a similarly substantial price, this new entrant is free.  It can be viewed online or downloaded, without charge, in either of two formats – PDF or HTML.  As the work’s forward explains, providing “pro se litigants, prisoners, and others seeking justice but … lack[ing] resources … effective access to the system lawyers use to cite to the law” was, for its creators, an important goal.

Relatively few U.S. jurisdictions formally require that citations in court filings conform to the scheme set out in The Bluebook.  (I count one U.S. circuit court, a handful of U.S. district courts, and the appellate courts of eleven states.)  But Bluebook-compatible citations are consistent with the rules of most.  By removing price as a barrier and focusing on the legal materials most frequently cited in U.S. proceedings, this guide of a different color seeks to improve access to the nation’s judicial system.

Establishing a Space for Innovation

The Indigo Book is free in a second, more radical sense.  It has been released with a Creative Commons public domain dedication.  Anyone can copy and redistribute it.  Anyone can create new and different works based upon it.  No further permission from the creators or publisher is required.  The aim here is said to be the clearing of this zone, so important to our legal system, for further innovation.

From the very outset, The Indigo Book project has been both goaded and troubled by overbroad copyright threats and innuendo from The Bluebook’s proprietors and their attorneys.  (Carl Malamud, who has been central to the project and whose Public.Resource.Org is Indigo‘s publisher, tells the full lamentable story here.) By separating the widely used system of citation codified in The Bluebook from its particularized expression, The Indigo Book seeks to build a wall between such claims and the projects of future software and database developers and citation guide authors.

“Not Authorized by Nor in Any Way Affiliated with …”

Why indigo?  As discussed in an earlier post, the four law journals that publish The Bluebook hold registered trademarks in three variations of that name.  The Indigo Book was, for a time, going to be “Baby Blue.”  The law firm representing the Harvard Law Review Association demanded that the title be changed and that it not be replaced by one “consisting of or comprising the word ‘Blue’”While denying that “Baby Blue” posed any risk of trademark confusion or dilution, the creators of the new guide decided, nonetheless, to change its name rather than waste time and money on litigation.  Quite possibly they shared Isaac Asimov’s view:

It is customary to list indigo as a color lying between blue and violet, but it has never seemed to me that indigo is worth the dignity of being considered a separate color. To my eyes it seems merely deep blue.

What Are the Likely Prospects for the New Guide?

In legal education

The Bluebook is published by four law journals and commands the allegiance of nearly all law student-edited reviews in the country.  Due to the place of those reviews in law school culture, faculty members responsible for courses on legal writing are under powerful pressure to teach the “Bluebook” rules.  Over time that pressure induced the Association of Legal Writing Directors (ALWD) to bring that organization’s competing guide into complete conformity.  Like the new Indigo Book, the ALWD guide is better organized than The Bookbook itself and, on many points, clearer in explanation and illustration.  It, too, has saved space and maintenance burden by limiting itself to U.S. sources.  Even so, powerful network effects have limited its market share.  For The Bluebook is not merely manifest in the format of the citations it enables journal editors, legal academics, lawyers, and legal assistants to produce.  It also represents a matrix of rule numbers and tables that facilitates communication about and resolution of citation issues.  Biblical exegesis is characterized by reference to chapter and verse.  Law review debates over proper citation form refer to Bluebook rule numbers, tables, and text.  Even at the powerfully attractive price point of free, The Indigo Book will run up against the dependence of most citation discourse within America’s law schools, student-edited journals, and large firms on The Bluebook’s classificatory scheme and specific language.

As a Resource for “pro se litigants, prisoners, and others seeking justice”

In the form released the new guide is also unlikely to be of much aid to those navigating the legal system on their own.  By seeking to liberate the full system of citation explicated in 350 or so of The Bluebook’s pages, Indigo had, of necessity, to be far more detailed than any useful self-help guide should be.  Moreover, that detail incorporates numerous points on which The Bluebook reflects the undue influence of major publishers and many others in which is out of step with the evolving citation practice of lawyers and judges responding to the proliferation of electronic sources.

By placing their guide in the public domain, however, The Indigo Book’s creators have made it possible for groups preparing pro se handbooks, web site resources, and courthouse kiosks to draw upon it in preparing appropriately tailored citation guidance.  Other derivative work possibilities abound.  Bar groups or court systems may well be tempted to prepare citation manuals adapted to state-specific citation requirements and norms.  Citation software developers should be able to proceed without infringement fears. All of this is to be hoped for.

As the author of a free citation reference, now in its twenty-third year, I welcome The Indigo Book and all its future progeny.

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