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Thomson Lawsuit Takes on GMU's Zotero

If you've never heard a law school faculty member squeal with delight, then you've never been to a Zotero demonstration. Zotero is a free Firefox extension used to collect, manage and cite research sources. It was developed by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. As University of Wisconsin law librarian Bonnie Shucha recently wrote at WisBlawg about a demonstration of Zotero given to law school faculty there, "To say they were impressed would be an understatement -- there were actual squeals of delight."

But now Thomson Reuters is trying to put an end to all that fun. It has filed a lawsuit against George Mason University seeking an injunction against Zotero's distribution and $10 million in damages. Thomson sells a product, EndNote, which, similarly to Zotero, allows users to search and organize bibliographic files online. In July, GMU released an update to Zotero that enables it to convert proprietary EndNote files to open-source Zotero files. In the lawsuit, which was first reported by the Courthouse News Service, Thomson alleges that GMU developed this capability by reverse engineering EndNote, in violation of EndNote's end-user license agreement.

GMU has issued no official response to the lawsuit, which was filed in state court in Richmond, Va. Thomson's complaint, filed by Gary H. Nunes of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Tysons Corner, Va., alleges that a GMU in-house counsel, David G. Drummey, initially responded to an August cease-and-desist letter by expressing an interest in negotiating a collaborative agreement between Thomson and GMU. A few days later, Drummey notified Thomson that GMU would not pull Zotero from distribution and that he had referred the matter to outside counsel.

At the blog Techdirt, Mike Masnick says this lawsuit highlights one of the worst aspects of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. "Reverse engineering is considered a perfectly legitimate practice in most cases -- and, in fact, is considered an important part of the competitive market in driving innovation," he writes. "But, thanks to the DMCA, when it comes to software, this type of behavior can be blocked within a license agreement." In Masnick's view, Zotero actually makes EndNote more valuable by making its output more useful. For a much-lengthier discussion of the pros and cons (mostly cons) of Thomson's lawsuit, EULAs and the DMCA, see the discussion thread at Slashdot.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 30, 2008 at 12:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)


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