Monday, January 30, 2006

Fun with Metadata

I looked at Dennis Kennedy's blog and was quite taken with his comments on metadata. Apparently the embarrassing discoveries made through inadvertent "signatures" left in metadata in various documents lately have attorneys really nervous. The Vioxx case where the changes to the article just before it went to press, traced to the pharmaceutical company's computers, were a case of metadata biting the author. The case of the authors of a supposedly anonymous memo criticizing Alito being fingered as DNC members and the memo being proved written before Alito was nominated -- metadata strikes again. So, there are lots of CLE programs suddenly about metadata and how to understand what it is and avoid having it bite you in e-discovery.

I have already mentioned metadata tags in my Advanced Legal Research class in connection with Segment searching in Lexis and Field searching in Westlaw. I think I will shoe-horn in a little more discussion about metadata. This is something newly minted law students ought to have heard about.

Metadata just means information (data) about other information. So these are tags to manage other information. Librarians began using metadata tags when we began electronic cataloging. There are "fields" or codes that have to be filled in to describe the book's title, author, size, subjects and more. Those can all be searched by the computer as separate items. So when you use the computer catalog, you can search by author, or title, or subject, or a new combination called "key word" that lets you search words out of titles, subjects and describtive note fields.

Metadata can likewise mean in Westlaw or Lexis, similar codes that the company workers enter to note the style of the case, the date, the court, the judge, the headnotes, the text, etc. And each of those "fields" or "segments" can be separately searched if you either use the Lexis or Westlaw form to fill out or use the command:

da(1992) [in Westlaw, for example, search for a document dated 1992]

DATE(1992) [in Lexis, search for document dated 1992]

Metadata can appear in Word or other word-processor brand documents or PDF files produced from those documents or in Power-point documents. Most simply, the software will list who it thinks produced the document -- whose computer was used. It will list the date it believes the document was produced, and when changes were made. If you have the "Track changes" function turned on -- good for collaboration -- it will keep track of changes and who made them, when. This can be good for your collaboration, but potentially embarrassing if the document gets into the wrong hands. You just have to be aware that these tags exist, know where to look for them [read the short article in the link above!] and THINK before you release documents.

No comments: