Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lawyers and Their Briefs

This makes no sense to me.  A group of lawyers have sued Westlaw and LexisNexis for reproducing their legal briefs as part of  the companies’  online database of court filings.  I have always assumed that anything filed in court is part of the public record and hence the public domain.  At least as far as federal court goes, briefs are readily accessible through the federal court system’s comprehensive  web site.  I suppose that anyone can slap a copyright notice on their brief, register their copyright with the Library of Congress and assert their statutory rights but on the other hand, stealing other lawyers' forms, pleadings and briefs has been a tradition in the legal profession, probably dating back to the Greeks and the Romans.   Seriously, all of our forms and pleadings come from somewhere and studying and reviewing  legal briefs and their theories filed in similar cases is simply good training and research.

                Apparently the federal judge in the Westlaw/LexisNexis case dismissed those lawyer plaintiffs  whose briefs had not been registered for copyright for the simple fact that registration is prerequisite to a copyright infringement suit but as to the number of lawyers who actually registered the copyright in their briefs, the lawsuit is still moving forward.  Might I suggest that we are going to see the fair-use defense soon?  We might also see a defense of lack of originality. Either way, it’s a strange case.

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