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Lawyers Sue Westlaw, LexisNexis Sued for 'Unabashed Copying' of Legal Docs

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on February 27, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A lawsuit accuses Westlaw and LexisNexis of "unabashed" copyright infringement in selling access to legal documents without permission from the authors -- namely, attorneys from coast to coast.

Two attorneys filed the suit in Manhattan federal court against Reed Elsevier Inc., which owns LexisNexis, and West Publishing Corporation, which owns Westlaw, The Wall Street Journal reports. West is a division of Thomson Reuters.

The legal-database companies "engaged in wholesale unlawful copying of attorneys' copyrighted work, bundled those works into searchable databases, and sold access to those works ... for huge profits," the lawsuit states.

"In doing so, West and LexisNexis are infringing the rights of the very clients they purport to serve," the Westlaw/LexisNexis lawsuit states.

Attorneys Edward L. White of Oklahoma and Kenneth Elan of New York are named as plaintiffs in the suit. They're seeking damages, disgorgement of Westlaw and Lexis profits, and an injunction to stop the alleged infringement.

White registered copyrights for some of his legal documents, but Elan did not. They hope to represent two classes of attorneys in their suit, which seeks class-action status.

The attorneys' copyright-infringement claim "is actually moderately strong" because legal briefs "are protected by copyright the moment they are written," UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh explained at his blog, The Volokh Conspiracy.

"The question is whether the commercial posting of the briefs is fair use," which is arguable, Volokh opined.

Attorneys White and Elan are being represented in their Westlaw/LexisNexis lawsuit by lawyers from two Manhattan law firms. The copyright-infringement complaint was filed Feb. 22, and can be read in its entirety by clicking here.

[Note: FindLaw is a Thomson Reuters business.]

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