Business of Law

Two Lawyers Sue West and LexisNexis for Reproducing Legal Briefs

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Two lawyers have filed a class action suit claiming West Publishing and Reed Elsevier are violating the copyrights of lawyers by reproducing their lawsuit documents in Westlaw and LexisNexis databases.

The plaintiffs, Oklahoma lawyer Edward White and New York City lawyer Kenneth Elan, filed suit on Wednesday in Manhattan federal court. How Appealing links to coverage by the Volokh Conspiracy and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

White has obtained copyright registration for some of his motions, while Elan has not. They seek to represent two classes of lawyers who have and haven’t copyrighted their work. The suit says the publishers charge substantial fees for access to lawyers’ work. West, for example, charges $622 a month for solos to access its “All State Briefs” and “All Federal Briefs” databases, the suit says.

The Law Blog says the suit “appears to be a novel interpretation of copyright law” while the Volokh Conspiracy says the argument for infringement is “moderately strong.”

“The question is whether the commercial posting of the briefs is fair use; and fair use law is, as usual, vague enough that there’s no clear answer,” the Volokh Conspiracy says.

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