[linux-elitists] Suggestion to publish court opinions in secret Microsoft word processor format

Michael Still mikal@stillhq.com
Wed Feb 5 00:53:39 PST 2003

On Wed, 5 Feb 2003, Jay Sulzberger wrote:

>    Since you recommend PDF, I am wondering how you suggest courts
>    deal with accessibility issues. As I am sure you know, PDF is not
>    considered an accessible format, as a PDF document is essentially
>    an image.

What can I say? This is simply wrong in so many ways. PDF is a page markup
format. It can contain text, images, sounds, annotations, and multimedia
thingies. The reason that many PDFs viewed by the public are images is
because they are scanned before PDF generation as they come from dead tree

You can test this for yourself -- turn on the text tool in Adobe Acrobat
(the T), and select some text. If it's an image, then that wont work.

>    While I realize that Adobe has recently come out with a
>    version of PDF that is supposed to be able to be read by screen
>    readers, my understanding is they are not very good and that
>    documents have to go through an extraordinary conversion process.

Checkout the PDF specifications at http://developer.adobe.com -- there has
been no change like this that I have seen reference to. There is a plugin
for Acrobat (the reading application), which aids accessibility, but there
are many longstanding tools to extract textual content from PDF documents.

>    When attending an accessibility seminar for Government employees
>    held recently in Washington, the recommendation was to avoid the
>    use of PDF unless an alternative version of the same document
>    could also be provided.

Is there any online documentation about this seminar? I am sure Adobe
would have something to say about this FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt).
The specifications for PDF are also freely available at
http://developer.adobe.com, for those who would like to research further
before making incorrect statements in public.

Most electronic document management vendors would strongly recommend PDF
for this sort of activity.

>    Do you know if most courts that provide
>    PDF versions also provide an alternative format? If so what
>    format seems to be the primary choice?

Australian legal documents are provided in PDF, HTML and text. Checkout
http://www.austlii.edu.au for more information. Patents and Trade Marks
are made available primarily in PDF format.

>    Thanks for your time and thoughts on this matter.

Another thing to bear in mind is that PDF is an excellent archival format
because the specification is open, well known, and understood. There are
many open source applications which implement the specification, including
xpdf, ghostscript, and panda. There are hundreds of commercial tools as
well -- checkout places like http://www.pdfzone.com for more information.

On the other hand, MS Word is effectively a single vendor format, which is
not well documented, and changes with each release. Having worked on some
Word format hacking, the format is rife with embedded COM objects, which
are non trivial to parse.

> If any of my technologically proficient readers have thoughts to offer in
> response to the questions posed in this email from the Webmaster for the
> Washington State Courts Internet site, please send me an email, and I will
> collect and forward on to the Webmaster of the Washington State Courts
> system the most useful comments that I receive.

[ I wouldn't normally include something like this, but credentials might
help with the discussions with court officials ]

Former imaging specialist for the Australian Patent, Trade Marks and
Designs offices, software engineer at a leading electronic document
management software vendor, author of a PDF generation libary, a PDF
parsing library, and a (soon to be announced) PDF editor and viewer.



Michael Still (mikal@stillhq.com) | Stage 1: Steal underpants
http://www.stillhq.com            | Stage 2: ????
UTC + 11                          | Stage 3: Profit

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