Open Access in the field of law

The number of open access (OA) publications in the field of law is relatively modest. However, as in other disciplines, too, the online publication of scholarly works, for example dissertations, is increasing. Hence, as of August 2014, the German database Dissonline.de listed 1,165 jurisprudential dissertations.

Because current legal literature is needed in many areas of work, and the demand is correspondingly high, the prices of books and journals can be described as moderate, especially by comparison with those in the natural science disciplines. There is a lot of competition in the legal publishing market in Germany, and it is not unusual for authors to receive a small fee when they publish their works with renowned publishers with high circulation figures. Moreover, because of the many legal databases available, legal scholars and practitioners usually have online access to a large number of full texts – albeit for a fee. Hence, the incentive to actively campaign for alternative publishing models is commensurately low.

Another distinctive feature of legal publications is that they comprise many texts that are not subject to copyright. Pursuant to Section 5 of the German Copyright Act (§ 5 Urheberrechtsgesetz, UrhG), court judgments, legislative texts, and other official works in Germany do not enjoy copyright protection, with the result that they may be disseminated and published by anyone. Recent case-law, in particular, is traditionally an integral part of many legal periodicals, databases, and printed works.

In Germany, too, the general visibility of the aforementioned official works has improved considerably thanks to the increasing number of interesting online projects and websites.

Open Access journals

The journal landscape in the field of law is very diversified. One can distinguish between journals for law students, journals for legal practitioners, journals of the legal subfields, and archival journals. Archival journals have the highest standards because they endeavour to unite all sub-fields of the legal world and, like the journals of the legal subfields, they have a strong scientific and/or research base. Journals for legal practitioners, by contrast, focus on recent case-law and legal developments, and on procedural issues. As a rule, journals for law students are edited by university professors and are frequently used by early-career legal scholars and practitioners to publish their first scholarly articles.

As of August 2014, there were relatively few German-language titles among the 193 law journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), whereas the Electronic Journals Library (EZB) has quite a large collection from the field of law, comprising 2,282 freely accessible journals. However, this collection also includes historical issues and collections of court judgments and laws but features only a few current German-language legal journals that focus on German law.

  • Bucerius Law Journal (BLJ). Since 2007, following the American tradition, the Bucerius Law School, a private law school in Hamburg, has published a journal that is run and edited by students, albeit with the support of an Academic Advisory Council made up of Bucerius Law School professors. The journal is published three times a year and, in addition to articles and essays, it regularly features a guest commentary, an international contribution, and a debate on a topical legal issue.
  • Forum Historiae Iuris (FHI). This journal of legal history was first published at the Humboldt Universität Berlin in 1996. It is edited by an international board of renowned legal historians. The individual essays and reviews are published at irregular intervals, mostly in German.
  • Humboldt Forum Recht. Launched in 1996, this online journal already has a long tradition. It is edited jointly by students and scientific staff of the Humboldt Universität Berlin and focuses on legal policy issues.
  • JurPC (an online journal of legal informatics and information law). This information law journal is published weekly. Edited by Prof. Dr Maximilian Herberger, who teaches legal informatics at the University of Saarbrücken, it has been published online and freely accessible since 1997. In addition to recent case-law, it also includes essays, book reviews, and comments on court judgments. Its newsletter reaches over 5,000 subscribers.
  • Zeitschrift für Internationale Strafrechtsdogmatik (ZIS). This mainly German-language journal, which is edited by renowned professors of criminal law, has been published monthly since 2006. It features scholarly essays, comments on court judgments, and reviews of books on German, European, and international criminal law and the law of criminal procedure.
  • Zeitschrift für das juristische Studium (ZJS). This journal, which has been published every two months since 2008, is addressed specifically to students who are preparing for examinations, including the First State Examination in Law. The contributions are not written by the students themselves but rather by university professors, legal practitioners, and scientific staff. They cover all areas of law and, besides essays and case-law, they include didactic articles and cases for practice purposes.
  • HRR-Strafrecht. This journal is an offering of the Hamburg law firm Strate and Ventzke. It is published by Dr h.c. Gerhard Strate and edited by Prof. Dr Karsten Gaede. The project offers free access to recent supreme court jurisprudence in criminal law and the law of criminal procedure in all thematic areas and also includes international court judgments. In all, 16,000 judgments and over 500 scholarly contributions are freely accessible.
  • Rg Rechtsgeschichte – Legal History. This journal appears once a year via the internet and in print form. It is edited by Thomas Duve, a professor of legal history, and it focuses on the subfield of legal history.

  • sui-generis.ch. The main goal of sui-generis.ch is to publish essays and articles in the field of law, which especially due to their actuality are not only relevant for juristic audiences. sui-generis.ch wants to bridge the gap between science and society via Open-Access and simultaneously venture the long past-due step into the future of scientific publishing.

The following is a selection of interesting English-language OA journals that focus on international law, in some cases with German participation on the editorial side:

  • Electronic Journal of Comparative Law (EJCL). This Dutch journal has been published by the University of Tilburg (Schoordijk Institute) since 1997. It appears on average three to four times a year. Articles are mainly in English.
  • German Law Journal (GLJ). This American-Canadian online journal with German involvement has been published monthly since 2000. It is devoted to German, European, and international legal issues. Each issue has a focal theme and all articles are in English. The journal is supported by the Robert Bosch Foundation.
  • Göttingen Journal of International Law (GoJIL). This journal got off to a promising start with its first two issues in 2009. It is published entirely in English and responsibility for editing and managing the journal lies mainly with the students.
  • Harvard Human Rights Journal. This annual journal is edited by students of Harvard Law School. It also appears in print form and has been freely accessible online since the 1999 issue. Older issues are expected to become available online in the near future.
  • International Journal of Communications Law & Policy (IJCLP). This English-language journal is produced with the collaboration of the law faculties of the Universities of Münster, Yale, Singapore, Florence, and Milan. Since 1998, 13 issues have been published.
  • Stanford Technology Law Review (STLR). Established by students of Stanford Law School in 1997, STLR pursues an interdisciplinary approach, especially by demonstrating links between jurisprudence and technological and policy developments. Issues are published regularly and the comments function enables readers to discuss the articles online.

Disciplinary repositories and databases

While many law schools in the U.S. offer repositories in law for the publications of their scholars and students, and also publish their own legal working paper series, there are no disciplinary repositories of this kind in the area of jurisprudence in Germany. However, a small number of jurisprudential publications can be found in the various interdisciplinary repositories of the German universities. However, they are mostly very scattered and are not centrally archived.

  • European Research Papers Archive (ERPA). The European network ERPA, which was established in 1997 by a number of renowned research institutes, is not a classical repository but rather describes itself as a “common access point” for publications on the subject of European integration. Via a common interface, over 1,872 freely accessible documents that are hosted by different servers can currently be searched via a common interface. They include, for example, the  Jean Monnet Working Papers Series, Discussion Papers and Working Papers of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies (MPIfG), the ARENA Working Paper Series, European Governance Papers, Working Papers of the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, and Working Papers of Mannheim Centre for European Social Research.
  • Service Provider of the Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Recht (Virtual Law Library): This service provider currently harvests over 1 million purely jurisprudential datasets from 306 repositories worldwide and from other data providers with an OI-PMH interface, for example the law journals listed in the DOAJ.
  • Saarbrücker Bibliothek. The Saarbrücker Bibliothek (Saarbrücken Library) of the Faculty of Law of the University of the Saarland contains a collection of 352 essays on a variety of jurisprudential topics.
  • OpinioIuris. This freely accessible law library is an OA platform for the publication and collection of jurisprudential content.

  • <intR>²Dok: The disciplinary Open Access Repository <intR>²Dok, realized with the support of the German Research Foundation, is the central publication platform situated at the specialised information service for international and interdisciplinary law research of the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preusischer Kulturbesitz.

Literature searches in the field of law

Collections of laws

  • Gesetze im Internet. (Laws on the internet). This reliable source of German legislation is a joint online project on the part of Juris GmbH and the German Federal Ministry of Justice. It covers almost the entire current federal legislation including many administrative regulations of the individual federal ministries. In the same way as it cooperates with the Federal Ministry of Justice, Juris GmbH also cooperates with several federal states (Länder), whose state laws are also freely accessible online, e.g. the state legislation of Baden-Württemberg (BW), Landesrecht BW Bürgerservice.
  • Bundesgesetzblatt (Federal Law Gazette). As the official organ for promulgating laws, the Bundesgesetzblatt alone is legally binding. By now, all volumes since 1949 are accessible via the website of the Bundesanzeiger Verlag (Federal Law Gazette Publisher). However, in contrast to the subscription-based version, this cost-free access, which is referred to as “citizens’ access”, allows users to access only the PDF documents for reading purposes.
  • Parliamentary Documentation. Together with the Bundesrat, the German Bundestag offers access on its website to the full texts of the parliamentary proceedings of the 7th to the 16th electoral terms via the Parliamentary Material Information System (DIP).
  • Eur-Lex. In keeping with the European transparency initiative, the legislation of the European Union is comprehensively documented in all 24 official languages and is publicly accessible on the website EUR-Lex. Documents include the Official Journal, international agreements, legislative procedures, and parliamentary questions. 

Collections of court judgments

German courts –especially the highest federal courts – and European courts are increasingly making the full texts of their judgments available online, e.g.:

  • CVRIA; Court of Justice of the European Union, judgments since 1997, (some older judgments can also be found at EUR-Lex)
  • OpenJur: judgment database with over 340,000 freely accessible court decisions.

Other full texts on the internet

A selection:

  • Digitalisierte Zeitschriftenjahrgänge aus dem 19. Jahrhundert (Digitized journal volumes from the 19th century). With the support of the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Max Planck Institute for European Legal History has digitized many 19th century journals of importance to jurisprudence, the full texts of which are now freely available online.
  • Junge Wissenschaft im Öffentlichen Recht e.V. (Young science in public law). Within the framework of the 52nd National Meeting of German Public Law Assistants (Assistententagung Öffentliches Recht) in 2012, this association, which had only been established in 2011 by young jurisprudential scholars, realised an OA publication platform where authors can publish their refereed analyses, reports on judgments, agreements, legislative acts, and new releases, and their tips for searching for new releases (monographs).
  • Virtuelles Datenschutzbüro. The Virtuelle Datenschutzbüro (Virtual Data Protection Office) is a joint portal of various data protection institutions at federal and Land level in Germany. It provides comprehensive information on German data protection law and also links a large number of scholarly essays, expert opinions, and other full texts.
  • The RWS-Verlag. In addition to its fee-based monographs and journals, this law publisher offers cost-free access via its website to a full-text archive of RWS journals from the years 1999–2008. Full texts from 2009 onwards are archived on the respective homepages of the RWS journals.

Content editor of this web page: Prof. Dr Ulrike Verch and Julia Wiesner, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences