Thomson Reuters Sues George Mason University For Making Its Software Output More Useful

from the how-dare-they! dept

A bunch of folks have been submitting the news that financial information giant Thomson Reuters is suing George Mason University for the high crime of releasing some software that can convert the output of Thomson Reuters own EndNote software into a more open format. EndNote is software for creating bibliographies, from a variety of different databases. The George Mason software, Zotero, does the same thing -- but also will take documents saved in EndNote's proprietary format and save it in its own open format. In normal times, under normal laws, this shouldn't be a problem. Reverse engineering is considered a perfectly legitimate practice in most cases -- and, in fact, is considered an important part of the competitive market in driving innovation. But, thanks to the DMCA, when it comes to software, this type of behavior can be blocked within a license agreement. This is one of the worst parts of the DMCA, in that it's clearly not about protecting copyrighted material, but about preventing any sort of competition in the market place.

If Thomson Reuters execs actually thought about this, they would realize that Zotero actually makes EndNote more valuable by making the output more valuable. As long as Thomson Reuters is willing to keep adding more and better features, then it should have nothing to worry about from Zotero, who only enhances the value of EndNote's output. Instead, Thomson Reuters is using the old claim of felony interference with a business model to shut down a university-produced open competitor. Thomson Reuters' claims make this quite clear, in saying that Zotero is "destroying the EndNote customer base." Back here, in the real world, most people call that competition and think it's a good thing, rather than against the law.
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Filed Under: bibliography, closed, copyright, dmca, license, open, software
Companies: george mason university, thomson reuters


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  1. identicon
    Noksagt, 29 Sep 2008 @ 7:13pm

    Corrections

    The complaint is not against being able to import an EndNote database of references, nor are there any complaints of DMCA violations (doesn't the DMCA allow for reverse engineering for the purpose of interoperability?).

    The lawsuit is currently about violating the site licensing agreement.

    Thomson Reuters alleges (incorrectly) that Zotero reverse engineered and/or decompiled EndNote. They (correctly) point out that one version of Zotero (the feature has since been disabled) could process EndNote's undocumented style files. These files have a .ens extension and instruct EndNote how to format a citation (so there would be one .ens file for the Chicago style, one for the APA style, one for how to cite articles if you are writing an article for Nature, etc.) They (incorrectly) allege that Zotero converts these files into the open CSL format. They (incorrectly) allege that Zotero distributes CSL files that were created in this way. Finally, they object to the "EndNote" trademark being used to describe how this is done.

    This is a nuisance suit that is intended to spread FUD.

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