Copyright Infringement for the Sale of Publicly Filed Documents?


Two lawyers filed a class action suit against West and LexisNexis for violating the copyrights of court filings around the country. The lawsuit filed in Federal Court in New York City on February 22, 2012 by Edward White (of Oklahoma City) and Kenneth Elan (of New York) starts with a description of the case:

This is a copyright infringement action against West and LexisNexis based upon their unabashed wholesale copying of thousands of copyright-protected works, created by, and owned by, the attorneys and law firms who authored them.

The first step in this lawsuit will be for the Federal Court to establish whether is White and Elan properly claimed a proper class of plaintiffs for this case. White and Elan claim that the class in this lawsuit is:

...all attorneys and law firms...that authored works...that are contained in the Defendants searchable databases.

Then only if the US District Court certifies the class will this lawsuit proceed.

Since filings in courthouses are public documents, the documents are available to the public and the basis of While and Elan’s claims relies on the fact that under the Copyright Act the author has a monopoly on making copies. West and LexisNexis are clearly making and selling copies of court filings, and it will be interesting to see how this dispute is resolved.

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