Lawyers suing lawyers is always a good time. This time around, it’s a copyright class action in which lawyers are trying to get legal research giants to pay for using their legal briefs without permission.
This week, a federal judge in New York turfed the bulk of the lawsuit against Westlaw and LexisNexis because most lawyers had not registered their literary masterpieces with the copyright office in Washington.
Under US copyright law, every creative work gets copyright protection as soon as it is created (that haiku you wrote on the back of a napkin, for instance, is copyrighted). But there is another rule that requires the work to be registered in many cases before an author can get help from a court. It typically costs $35 to $50 to register a work.
The judge’s ruling this week means the vast majority of US lawyers who would have been included in the class action are disqualified. The handful who did register their briefs can continue.
Some lawyers are frustrated that Westlaw and LexisNexis can charge exorbitant amounts to access documents written by the lawyers themselves. Copyright, however, is unlikely to be the answer, especially as such documents have long been part of the public record and provide an important source of news and business reporting.
The Wall Street Journal’s law blog has more on the story here.