MANHATTAN (CN) - Attorneys claim in a federal class action that West Publishing and LexisNexis engage in "unabashed wholesale copying of thousands of copyright-protected works created by, and owned by, the attorneys and law firms who authored them," and bundle and sell access to the works "for huge profits."
Attorneys Edward L. White and Kenneth Elan sued West Publishing Corporation dba "West" and Reed Elsevier dba LexisNexis, in a 13-page complaint with 51 pages of exhibits and attachments.
White, an Oklahoma attorney specializing in intellectual property law, and Elan, of New York City, seek to represent all attorneys and law firms that created works that appear in LexisNexis and West's searchable databases.
They seek damages on behalf of two classes of attorneys: those who have a registered copyright in the works, and those who do not.
White and Elan claim that West and LexisNexis created digital copies of attorneys' copyright-protected works, put those works in their databases, and made them available to subscribers for a fee.
"The defendants are the largest electronic legal research providers in the United States," the complaint 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."
West and LexisNexis offer online access to thousands of legal documents, including briefs, motions and other materials created by law firms.
"In order to include the works (as defined above) in their databases, the defendants copy such works and digitize them in order to make them text searchable," the complaint states. "In at least some instances, the defendants also include images of the works available for viewing and/or download." (Parentheses in complaint).
West and LexisNexis sell access to the documents "either as part of a package subscription, or at an additional per-document charge," according to the complaint. And, the attorneys say, they do not sell it on the cheap.
"The defendants charge substantial fees for access to these databases of content that they created from the wholesale copying of the works," the complaint states. "For example, access to West's 'All State Briefs' database has been priced at $389.00 per month for a solo attorney, as is its 'All Federal Briefs' database. Access to the All State and Federal Briefs product has been priced for solo practitioners at $622.00 per month. Lexis's Briefs, Pleadings, and Motions product costs a single attorney $960.00 for a twelve month subscription.
"The defendants have neither sought, nor obtained, ownership of the copyright to the works, or a license to copy, sell, or otherwise profit from the works.
"The defendants continue to copy, digitize, and sell the class members' works without their authorization.
"The defendants' infringement of the class members' works has caused, and will continue to cause, damages and irreparable injury to plaintiffs and the class.
"The defendants, as the publishers and authors of numerous and substantial original works of legal analysis - in which they claim and vigorously defend their own copyright interests - knew or should have known that their actions constitute copyright infringement."
White and Elan, who claim to have substantial earnings from their copyright-protected documents, say the publishers intend to continue the infringement.
They seek class certification, damages for copyright infringement, disgorgement, and they want the publishers barred from continued infringement of their copyrights.
White and Elan are represented by Gregory Blue.
West is a wholly owned subsidiary of Thomson Reuters and one of the most prominent publishers of legal materials in the United States.
LexisNexis, a subsidiary of Reed Elsevier, serves customers in more than 100 countries and has more than 15,000 employees worldwide.
West and LexisNexis own more than 85,000 databases of case law, statutes, public records, law journals, law reviews and briefs.
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