George Mason University Sued by Thomson Reuters over Zotero

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Thomson Reuters is suing George Mason University to stop distribution of the newest version of Zotero, a Firefox browser plugin for managing citation data. According to a story from Courthouse News Service, Reuters is claiming that George Mason is violating the terms of its license agreement by including a function in Zotero that will convert citation styles from the proprietary EndNote format to a format that can be used by Zotero. Reuters also asking for $10 million in damages for destroying the EndNote customer base. Since George Mason is a state institution, the Commonwealth of Virginia is also named in the suit.

According to the Courthouse News article, Reuters says: "A significant and highly touted feature of the new beta version of Zotero, however, is its ability to convert - in direct violation of the License Agreement - Thomson's 3,500 plus proprietary .ens style files within the EndNote Software into free, open source, easily distributable Zotero .csl files." In fact, there is a closed enhancement ticket in the Zotero project management tool for an EndNote to Zotero style converter. The EndNote license agreement says

RESTRICTIONS. End User may not modify, translate, decompile, reverse engineer, retransmit in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopied, recorded or otherwise), resell or redistribute the Product, or any portion thereof, without the prior written consent of ResearchSoft. Except as expressly set forth in this Agreement, End User may not make any use of the Product.

One suspects the heart of the lawsuit claim is that the EndNote .ens style files are a portion of the EndNote product and therefore cannot be reverse engineered, which it appears the Zotero team has done.

The suit was filed on September 5th in the civil division of Richmond City Circuit Court, case number CL08004225-00. There is not yet any significant information online, but if you are interested in the lawsuit you may want to keep an eye on the Virginia Circuit Court Case Information website. (Because of the way the site is built, one cannot link directly to the case. Select "Richmond City Circuit" from the pull-down list, select "Begin", then at the next screen select "Civil" and plug in the case number listed above.) No public word from Zotero (nothing in the project's blog or the forums) or Thomson Reuters (on the EndNote news or the Thomson Scientific news pages) on the lawsuit.

This could be an interesting lawsuit to follow. The Zotero enhancement ticket has a discussion about the legality of using the EndNote Styles collection or EndNote styles posted on other sites. The EndNote software itself makes it possible to create and export the EndNote Style .ens files, so many EndNote Style files are the result of the work of entities other than Thomson Reuters. Presumably the person that created the ENS-to-CSL translator for Zotero did not have a copy of the EndNote software and so was not bound by the EndNote license agreement. Does the fact that the ENS files were published on open websites where they could be accessed without using EndNote itself make a difference?

Zotero is a project of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason and is sponsored/funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the Mellon Foundation, and the Sloan Foundation.

Found via Mark Leggott's and David Bigwood's blogs.


28-Sep-2008 Richard Wallis notes:

Following that link to Endnote export styles [link] you end up on a page containing the following words: "EndNote output styles are provided solely for use by licensed owners of EndNote and with the EndNote product."

What's interesting is the fact that this sentence was recently (within the last 8 months) added to the site. The January 13th January 3rd snapshot of that page in the Wayback Machine doesn't have that sentence. I wonder when it was added. In both cases (the current page and the Wayback Machine snapshot), the note at the bottom says "This page was last modified on: November 4, 2005" -- I would disagree.

Also -- I just found a copy of the Thomson Reuters' complaint [PDF] on the Courthouse News Service website.

31-Oct-2008 As Rick notes in the comments, the January 13th version on the Wayback Machine of the EndNote Styles page is no longer there. It has been replaced with a link to the January 3rd version, and you can periodically check the list of all versions of the page in available in the Wayback Machine. Odd -- I didn't think pages were supposed to go away on the Internet Archive.

The text was modified to update a link from to on August 27th, 2012.

The text was modified to update a link from to on November 13th, 2012.