Thomson Reuters Accused of Copyright Violations

TORONTO (CN) – Attorney Lorne Waldman filed a $50 million class action demand against Thomson Reuters Corp., claiming the media giant engages in and encourages mass copyright violations by publishing attorneys’ pleadings on its Litigator database service, and “brand(s) documents with a statement asserting that they are the owner of copyright.”

     “The defendants took more than 50,000 legal documents created by members of the proposed class, removed them from court files and copied them, scanned them into a downloadable format, posted them in their database, and then made them available to subscribers for a fee,” the complaint states.
     Waldman apparently objects not just to the scanning and posting of the documents, but to the fact that “The defendants brand documents with a statement asserting that they are the owner of copyright.” (Underlining as in complaint.) “The statement reads: ‘© Thomson Reuters Canada Limited or its Licensors. All rights reserved.'”
     But Waldman points out, “The defendants neither sought permission from the owners to deal in the documents in any way, nor did they offer payment or obtain a licence of any kind from the copyright owners to do anything that the copyright owners have the exclusive right to do.
     “In addition to asserting that they own copyright in legal documents they did not create, the defendants seek to trade on the name and reputation of the lawyer and/or firm who actually drafted the document by showing (and permitting searching by) lawyer and firm names.” (Parentheses as in complaint.)
     Waldman claims that Thomson Reuters “authorize and encourage their subscribers to infringe copyright by suggesting in their marketing material that the purloined intellectual property be used to ‘get a head start on [their] own document creation.’ After downloading the copied court documents, the defendants’ subscribers can then copy-and-paste from the downloaded documents into their own.”
     Waldman adds: “Copyright subsists in all original written works that are the product of the author’s skill and judgment. This includes legal documents such as facta, pleadings and affidavits. Such documents are imbued with an individual author’s use of skill, ingenuity, creativity, rhetoric, persuasiveness and experience. These documents are prepared at great expense and have considerable value. …”
     “The defendants have infringed copyright by doing acts which only the owner of the copyright had the right to do, including selling or renting a copyrighted document, distributing such document so as to prejudicially affect the owner, trading, distributing, offering for sale or renting the document, and possessing the document for the purpose of doing any of these acts. … The defendants are not the owners of the intellectual property in these documents, yet they claim rights and take action as if they were.
     “In short, the defendants have created a service whose sole purpose and effect is to carry out mass copyright infringement for their own financial profit.”
     Waldman claims the defendants copied his work and it available for download without permission. He says he filed the document as counsel for Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer who was detained by the United States and deported to Syria, where he was tortured.
     “Over a period of months or years, the defendants attended at court houses across Canada, and sought out court files from leading Canadian civil litigation proceedings,” the complaint states. “The sole purpose of this copying was to create a database of legal documents as part of a commercial venture for profit.”
     Waldman seeks punitive damages and an injunction. He is represented by Louis Sokolov and Jordan Goldblatt with Sack Goldblatt Mitchell.

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