This article is from the Copyright Law FAQ, by Terry Carroll with numerous contributions by others.
Cases are reported in books called "reporters." A reporter
generally consists of a series of bound volumes. Often when the volume
number becomes too high, the reporter publisher starts over with volume
1, designating the new set as a "second series," "third series," etc., as
Because copyright is almost entirely a matter of federal law, most (if
not all) cases referenced in this FAQ are federal cases. The most common
reporters (with their abbreviations shown in parentheses) are:
United States Reports (U.S.) - This is the official reporter for cases
from the United States Supreme Court. This is the standard reporter
reference provided when referencing a Supreme Court case. If a case is
especially recent, it may not yet be published in the U.S. Reports, in
which case, the proper reference is to one of the unofficial reporters
(either the Supreme Court Reporter or the Lawyers' Edition).
The unofficial reporters are also cross-indexed by the U.S. Report's
volume and page numbers, so that given a citation to a case in the U.S.
Reports, you should be able to also find it in either of the unofficial
reporters. The converse is not true: if, for example, you have a
citation to the Supreme Court Reporter, you will not be able to find the
case in the U.S. Reports. All law libraries carry a set of books called
Shepard's Citations, which will permit you to cross-reference this way.
See your law librarian for help using these intimidating-looking books.
Supreme Court Reporter (S.Ct.) - This is an unofficial reporter published
by West Publishing. It too reports cases from the United States Supreme
Court. The advantages of this reporter is that it comes out more quickly
than the official reporter, and also includes West's headnotes and case
United States Supreme Court Reporter, Lawyers' Edition (L.Ed.) - This is
another unofficial reporter, similar to the Supreme Court Reporter, but
published by the Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Co. In addition to the
advantages offered by the Supreme Court Reporter, it often includes short
essays (called annotations) on points of law dealt with in a case.
Federal Reporter (F.) - This is an unofficial reporter, published by
West, that reports cases from the various United States Courts of Appeal.
There is no official reporter for these cases, and the Federal Reporter
de facto fills that role.
Federal Supplement (F.Supp) - This is an unofficial reporter, published
by West, that reports cases from the various United States District
Courts (that is, from the courts of "original jurisdiction," where trials
are originally held and often appealed to the higher courts). There is
no official reporter for these cases, and the Federal Supplement de facto
fills that role.
United States Patent Quarterly (U.S.P.Q.) - This is a topical reporting
service from the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA). It reports cases from
various courts, but because it's a "topical reporter," it only reports
cases dealing with a certain topic, in this case, intellectual property
(despite its name, it's not limited to patent cases).
This is only a very small subset of the reporters and services that
report cases. For a more complete list, see "The Bluebook: A Uniform
System of Citation, 15th Edition," in particular, tables T.1 (United
States Jurisdictions), T.2 (Foreign Jurisdictions) and T.16 (Services).
The standard way of referencing a case is in the format:
case-name volume-number reporter [series, if applicable] page-number
"Jurisdiction" is omitted for U.S. Supreme Court cases; the fact that the
reporter is U.S., S.Ct., or L.Ed. is enough to show that it's a U.S.
Supreme Court case. If two page numbers are included, the first page
number is the page on which the case begins, and the second is the page
that contains the particular point being referenced (called a "pinpoint
cite" or "jump cite").
Here is an example of a case citation:
Sega v. Accolade, 977 F.2d 1510, 1520 (9th Cir., 1993).
From this citation, we know that the parties in the case are Sega and
Accolade; the case is reported in volume 977 (second series) of the
Federal Reporter; the case begins on page 1510, but the particular point
being referenced is on page 1520; the case was decided in the 9th Circuit
Court of Appeals, in 1993.