Thomson Reuters, the provider of EndNote, a bibliographic manager used by researchers, scholarly writers, and librarians to create bibliographies, manage footnotes, and generally organize references and related files, has filed suit against George Mason University in Virginia state courts to halt distribution of Zotero, a popular, open source Firefox extension for managing bibliographic and citation data.
According to Courthouse News Service, Thomson Reuters claims that George Mason has violated the terms of its Endnote licensing agreement by including within the Zotero plug-in the ability to convert citations and bibliographic entries. The suit claims that George Mason University reverse engineered and decompiled EndNote software to create Zotero. The suit asks for $10 million in damages for devastating its EndNote customer base.
The full complaint is available here. It remains unclear whether any of the developers ever agreed to the Endnote User License Agreement.
Extracts from the complaint are summarized at the Disruptive Library Technology Jester, a blog maintained by adherents of open source library software. According to the suit, George Mason’s Endnote licensing agreement expressly forbid the duplication of the software, reverse engineering, decompiling, or modification, as well as the separating out of the software’s components.
In his blog, the Laboratorium, James Grimmelmann, suggests that the lawsuit is quite thin given the fact that Endnote’s proprietary output styles are in fact dictated by the style guides associated with individual academic journals and publications.
That said, the case has important ramifications in the on-going debate between commercial software providers and advocates of open-source approaches.
As Grimmelman concluded, “I don’t know why I find it especially amusing that Thomson Reuters is suing over the acts of a HISTORY prof, but I do. If Endnotes had better met his professional needs, I’d guess he never would have developed Zotero.”
Zotero was developed at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason. The project has received funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the Sloan Foundation.
Posted by Lorene Lavora