On Friday, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff dismissed a copyright lawsuit brought by IP attorney Edward White against LexisNexis and Westlaw on the grounds that the companies had made unlawful profits from his copyrighted legal filings. Judge Rakoff dismissed White’s lawsuit without giving any reason, though he said that the reasoning would be provided in a subsequent opinion.
The copyright infringement lawsuit against Elsevier, LexisNexis, and Westlaw had been filed in 2012 by White and another lawyer Kenneth Elan, who practices in New York. The plaintiffs had alleged that their copyrights had been infringed by the defendants who sold the copyrighted legal briefs from their databases.
The lawsuit had alleged, “wholesale unlawful copying of attorneys’ copyrighted work, bundled those works into searchable databases, and sold access to those works in the form of digitized text and images for huge profits.”
Initially, the lawsuit had sought class action status for two groups of lawyers including those who had registered their documents at the U.S. Copyright Office, and those who had not. Later, in May, Rakoff had struck off the proposed subclass of lawyers who had not copyrighted their filings along with parting ways with Elan. However, it is the law in the U.S. that any creation is automatically protected by Copyright after it is created.
Subsequently, White filed an amended complaint without the class certification request and seeking damages based on the inclusion of his copyrighted briefs in Westlaw’s “Litigator” database and in LexisNexis’s “Briefs, Pleadings and Motions” database.
During arguments on a motion for summary judgment, White argued that “a court’s docket is not a lawless, copyright-free zone,” and that lawyers and law firms own copyrights to their own materials. However, Westlaw and Lexis argued that they used the documents under the doctrine of fair use, and as because the documents were available to the public in general through the Pacer filing system.
The legal research companies also argued that they had value added to the documents by making them searchable and useful for other legal practitioners.
The case is Edward White v. West Publishing Corp, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 12-1340.