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Reuters sues university over open-source citation extension

Zotero, a Firefox plug-in, looks like an amazing tool for academic and legal writing, what with "automatic citation capture" from webpages, formatted citation export and integration with WordPress. Developed by George Mason University, the tool has already been adopted by 100 major institutions.

Zotero, a Firefox plug-in, looks like an amazing tool for academic and legal writing, what with "automatic citation capture" from webpages, formatted citation export and integration with WordPress. Developed by George Mason University, the tool has already been adopted by 100 major institutions.

So who doesn't like it? Thomson Reuters, which is suing the university for $10 million and an injunction to stop distribution, according to Courthouse News Service.

Read the complaint (PDF). Thomson says GMU allows users to convert Reuters' EndNote Software, in violation of the license agreement. EndNote, Reuters says:

[A]llows end users to search online bibliographic databases, organize their references, images, and .pdfs in any language, and instantly create bibliographic reference style files and figure lists in Thomson's proprietary .ens style format for over 3,500 journals and publications.

...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."

James Grimmelman calls Thomson Reuters "the gang that couldn't sue straight," saying the complaint was written by a "duffer."

A key issue: Does TR's contract with GMU limit GMU professors? Says Michael Froomkin:

Let’s say that the contract at issue does prohibit GMU from distributing software like Zotero (not obvious it does, but bear with me). Does that prohibition bind the GMU faculty? I’m not sure; but to the extent the acts were within the scope of employment, it might.

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