Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Public Domain Citation Definition:

A legal citation unique to cases issued from a particular court with numbering assigned sequentially, and designed for electronic database and Internet cataloguing retrieval.

Related Terms: Neutral Citation, Legal Citation, Law Journal, Public Domain

This is the term used by some sources in the United States to refer to what is known elsewhere as a neutral legal citation or, more commonly, a neutral citation.

In Legal Research, the authors write:

"Recent years have seen a trend towards citations to legal authorities that do not depend on references to a particular volume and page number, and that thus can be used whether documents are retrieved in printer volumes, through subscription databases, or from ... Internet sites.

A public domain citation system assigns official numbers to documents such as court decisions sequentially as they are issued...."

Under the public domain citation system, each successive decision of a particular court of law or even administrative tribunal, is assigned a number, issued sequentially. That number is available as of publication and is not contingent on the annual publication, in hard cover, of the particular law report which might otherwise publish the case at some later date.

For example, when Knoth v Knoth was issued by the judge on March 18, 2003, is was issued with this public domain citation:

Later, the reasons for judgment in Knoth v Knoth was picked up for publication by the law report Reports on Family Law and assigned a redundant legal citation, in which is embedded the trade-mark of a privately-owned legal publisher (Reports on Family Law are owned and published by Carswell):

The movement towards public domain citations is hindered, especially in the United States, by commercial publishers who see considerable commercial value in the continuation of a formal legal citation which refers to their body or products by trade-mark; for example, Westlaw's F. Supp. series (US trademark #73325198 belonging to West Publishing Company).

Some law librarian associations and law professors are heavily influenced by the presence and gratuities of private law publishers such as Thomson-West. This exacerbates and slows the eventual replacement of all legal citations which are private-publisher dependent, to public domain citations.

In addition, public domain citation system of case and other authority identification is the future and this is recognized by the increasing number of law journal publishers who are shedding their archaic legal citations to defer instead to a simpler public domain citation.

For example, and examples abound, the Boston University International Law Journal, formerly B.U. Int'l L. J., now promotes itself as BUILJ.


  •  Cohen, M. and Cohen, K., Legal Research, 8th Ed.  (St. Paul: Thomson-West, 2003), page 12-13.

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