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Attorneys sue WestLaw, LexisNexis for copyright infringement


NEW YORK—A group of attorneys has accused legal reference websites and of raking in “huge profits” by selling access to their copyrighted works, according to court documents.

In a lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday, attorneys Edward L. White and Kenneth Elan accuse the websites of “unabashed wholesale copying” of thousands of legal memos, briefs, motions and other materials authored by lawyers or their firms.

According to the lawsuit, the websites pull content from local, state and federal court records, aggregate it into searchable databases, and sell access to it via site subscriptions and document fees.

Messrs. White and Elan—based in Oklahoma City and New York, respectively—are seeking class designation for the suit, estimating that “at least thousands, and more likely, tens of thousands” of lawyers and law firms have been negatively impacted by the websites’ conduct.

“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 suit claims. “Their infringement of the class members’ works have caused, and will continue to cause, damages and irreparable injury to plaintiffs and the class.”

Because WestLaw and LexisNexis assert copyright protection for their own in-house articles and legal analyses, the suit claims the websites knew or should have known that their actions regarding the collected content constituted copyright infringement.

A spokesman for New York-based Thomson Reuters, which owns WestLaw, declined to comment on the suit. Calls to LexisNexis, which is owned by London-based Reed Elsevier Group P.L.C., were not immediately returned.

Messrs. White and Elan are seeking an undetermined amount in damages and disgorgement of the websites’ profits, as well as a permanent injunction barring the sites from publishing allegedly unauthorized content.