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I recently read about the court case Reed v. Cognitive Media Networks Inc., et al., Case No. 3:15-cv-05217, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. This case is referred to as Vizio Smart TV Tracking Software Class Action Lawsuit on this site.

In this lawsuit, plaintiff Palma Reed of California accuses Vizio and their partner Cognitive Media Networks Inc. of hiding tracking software inside Vizio TVs. This was done with the intent to monitor in real time what programs consumers are watching and then reporting this information to a server operated by Cognitive Media Networks Inc.

I would be interested of obtaining copies of the court records but I am not in any way related to this case.

Additionally this case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, but I live in Florida. So if there is a way to obtain the documents, it would have to be done either online or by postal mail.

Is it possible to obtain copies of these court documents, and if so, how can I do it?

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TLDR:

  • Install RECAP, use PACER.
  • Beware of costs, which run up quickly.

FULL ANSWER

PACER is the place to get these documents, but PACER is not free, and the sign up is pretty horrible.

If you do sign up, the costs work roughly like this:

  • 10 cents per page for things like PDFs, capped at $3 per document.
  • Search results cost 10 cents per "page" retrieved, with no cap (i.e., be VERY careful what you search for).
  • Dockets (long tables listing the documents in cases) cost 10 cents per "page" capped at $3.
  • There's $15 free per user per calendar quarter (January-March, April-June, etc). Exceed that amount you get charged the full price.

Search results and dockets are priced by the "page", but if you dig deeply, few people within even PACER itself know what a "page" of a docket or search results is, because those are just web pages. If you dig deeply enough, you'll eventually learn that web pages are priced by the amount of data retrieved from their back end database, at a cost of 10 cents per 4320KB of data (it took me two weeks to get that answer). The Judicial Branch makes about $140M/year this way.

All is not lost however! I run a 501(c)(3) non-profit called Free Law Project that makes a free browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox called RECAP. If you install these before you log into PACER, we can give you some of the documents for free, if anybody has ever bought them before. If we can't give them for free, and you have our extension installed, you'll donate your purchase to the public domain so other people can get them for free down the road (or you can get them a second time, if you lose your first download).

Finally, you need to know that PACER isn't a single system, but rather is about 200 separate installations of the same system, one per courthouse, each with its own website. The one you want is the Northern District of California.

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    It should be noted that RECAP is explicitly legal. Federal court documents, as works of the federal government, are categorically ineligible for copyright, so they fall into the public domain as soon as they are produced. – Kevin Nov 25 '15 at 2:57
  • Except that pacer does not charge unless you hit a threshold in a month. – user3344003 Nov 25 '15 at 14:36
  • The threshold for free downloads is $15/quarter as explained above (not per month). – mlissner Nov 25 '15 at 14:55
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They would be available on the PACER system.

http://pacer.login.uscourts.gov/

You have to sign up to get an account.

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    Popular cases in PACER may have made their way into RECAP. The RECAP search interface is at archive.recapthelaw.org – Jason Aller Nov 24 '15 at 22:32
  • Thanks @JasonAller. My org maintains RECAP, and I just posted a big ol' answer with more details. – mlissner Nov 24 '15 at 22:48

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