Judge Rakoff Dismisses Suit Against WestLaw and Lexis Based on Distribution of Copyrighted Briefs

February 11th, 2013

Reuters (which owns WestLaw) has the story:

In a brief ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff dismissed Edward White’s lawsuit. White, who specializes in intellectual property law, had alleged that Westlaw, owned by Thomson Reuters Corp, and LexisNexis, owned by Reed Elsevier Plc, profited by selling his copyrighted legal briefs in their databases.

Rakoff said that his reasoning for dismissing the lawsuit would be laid out in a subsequent opinion

White filed an amended complaint, dropping the class certification request and seeking an unspecified amount of damages based on the inclusion of his copyrighted legal briefs in Westlaw’s “Litigator” and LexisNexis’s “Briefs, Pleadings and Motions” databases.

On a motion for summary judgment, White said lawyers and law firms own the copyright to their own materials and that “a court’s docket is not a lawless, copyright-free zone,” according to his motion papers.

Westlaw and Lexis countered that they were entitled to use the documents under the doctrine of fair use, according to court filings. They noted that the documents were generally available to the public via the Pacer filing system. They also argued that their use of the documents was “transformative,” taking the documents and enhancing them to make them searchable and useful for legal practitioners.

This is very good news. One of the major hold-ups in my plans for Harlan was whether briefs would be subject to copyright laws. If Rakove’s ruling is upheld, this would pave the way for performing some sophisticated analytics on briefs.

My previous posts on this case are here, here, and here.