U.S. Tax Code On-Line
This document allows you to access the complete text of the United
States Internal Revenue Code, Title 26 of the U.S. Code (26 USC) in a
variety of ways. Hyperlinks have been embedded in the Code to permit
following cross-references between sections with a simple mouse click.
A WAIS-based full-text search engine allows you to quickly locate Code
sections by content.
Access and navigation
You can access the Code through its own
hierarchical table of contents,
a comprehensive (flat) table of contents
file is almost 300K and takes a while to retrieve), or an
index by section number, handy when you're
looking up a citation in another document.
Each section of the Code contains navigation buttons which provide
immediate access to the next and previous section, the table of
contents, the section index, the text search request form, and this
document. Below the title at the top of a section is its complete
citation in the Code, for example:
Each component in these citations is hyperlinked to the hierarchical
table of contents entry for that component of the Code, within which each
item is linked to the document that contains it. This allows you to easily
move up and down the hierarchy.
The complete Internal Revenue Code is more than 24 megabytes in
length, and contains more than 3.4 million words; printed 60 lines to
the page, it would fill more than 7500 letter-size pages. Looking for
something buried in that mass of verbiage can be daunting. By
indexing and retrieval engine to the Web version of
the tax code, you can search the entire Code for
words or combinations of words, navigating directly to sections that matched
the query by following a link. For example, entering "forfeiture AND
beer" in the query box and pressing
locates all 13 sections of the Code containing those words, ranked in
descending order of relevance as determined by the weighting
algorithm in freeWAIS-sf. You can compose more complex queries using
The source document for this Web server was obtained from the
U.S. House of Representatives
Office of the Law Revision Counsel, and is current up to January 19th, 2004.
English text isn't a programming language. Compiling it automatically
into hypertext is not an error-free process. The HTML version of the Code
is, as far as I know, complete and correct, containing every word in
the original ASCII document. However, the process of linking
cross-references, which provides much of the added value compared to a
printed edition of the Code, requires a large number of heuristics (or
as they used be called, kludges) which attempt to parse the text of the
statute sections of the Code and identify both the hierarchy of the
text and references within it.
As a result, while the overwhelming majority of the more than 23000
cross-references are properly linked, there are the occasional
cross-references which are not linked. The Code contains both
internal cross-references and identically formatted references to
other sections of the U.S. Code and to other laws entirely. For
example, in Section 9501(d)(7) of the Code, there's a
reference to "section
which isn't a cross-reference to the Internal Revenue Code at all, but
rather a citation of a section of the Black Lung Benefits Act, as the
text goes on to explain. A vast armamentarium of dirty tricks
allows me to identify most, but not all, of these external references,
including this one. The few that were missed appear erroneously as
links within the Internal Revenue Code. Conversely, a few references
within the Code are not linked because the translator program decided
they were external references (if you encounter one of these, it's
easy to go to the
section index and navigate directly to
the cited section).
When you stumble across one of these warts, it's generally obvious
from the context which document is actually cited. I've invested a
substantial time in manual editing to fix the most of the errors, but
I'm sure some remain. I don't find the few lingering errors to be an
impediment to practical use of the on-line Code. I decided not to
link internal references within individual sections because there
would be many missed and incorrect links due to the many different
styles of citations within the text. Besides, I don't think the
benefit would justify inflating the file size for all those additional
local links; it's just as easy to use the scroll bar.
The Statute parts of the Code (the actual law) are compiled into HTML
which attempts to express the hierarchy in the text by indentation.
All the other parts, such as amendment histories, transitional rules,
references in text, etc. are written to an auxiliary document pointed
to by title links in the main statute document. All the auxiliary
parts are written as "preformatted text", precisely as they appeared
in the original ASCII document. It doesn't look great, but it's
perfectly usable for material that one seldom refers to. Besides,
making the U.S. tax law look pretty is like gilding a dog turd: you
could do it, but what's the point?
I make absolutely no representations or warranties regarding
this document and I accept no responsibility whatsoever for any
consequences of your use of it. I've tried to be careful in
converting a huge mass of unindexed ASCII text into a live document
that's genuinely useful for research, but I'm a fallible human who
insists that other members of his species assume total responsibility
for their own actions.
And finally, if you use this document for your own personal or
business tax planning, please keep in mind that in the Anglo-Saxon
legal system, the law is not so much what is written down, but what
the courts have decided in cases. People, particularly folks with a
background in engineering or science, often assume the law can be
interpreted and manipulated like a set of axioms. It doesn't work
that way. So while there is a great deal one can learn from a
document such as the Internal Revenue Code, it's no substitute for
expert professional advice when you're making decisions that affect
your own wallet. Conversely, when dealing with experts, having access
to the Code is a good way to find out just how expert they really are,
and how accurate the advice you're getting actually is.
The complete U.S. Immigration and
Nationality Act is also available in this format.
Visit my home page for other documents and
software, some relevant to business,
economics, and politics.
by John Walker