Last week a few lawyers sued Westlaw and Lexis for copyright infringement. This potential class-action suit alleges that Westlaw and Lexis infringe copyrights when they copy attorney-authored briefs and memoranda:
The Defendants are the largest electronic legal research providers in the United States. West and LexisNexis have engaged in 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. In doing so, West and LexisNexis are infringing the rights of the very clients they purport to serve. West and LexisNexis well know that the copyright laws of the United States require them to obtain authorization from the attorneys who created the works they infringe. Despite this knowledge, West and LexisNexis have for years and continue to systematically sell the attorneys’ work.
Law professors (1 2) suggest that there are non-frivolous legal questions about whether these documents can be copyrighted. White v. West Publishing Corp. will be a case to watch for the intersection of First Amendment law and copyright law.