– Derek Allen, Attorney –

A couple of lawyers, who, according to their complaint, purport to represent all attorneys and law firms in the United States, think the answer is yes.

As the lawyers among you will know, Westlaw and LexisNexis provide a cornucopia of legal research databases.  For a fee, those companies can provide you with anything from court opinions to hunting license registration information to, until recently, social security numbers of millions of Americans.

What got these lawyers upset, however, is the ability to obtain copies of legal briefs submitted in many cases across the country.  The lawyers claim that these briefs are their work, and that Westlaw and LexisNexis are improperly selling copies of the briefs without compensating the lawyers.  Commentators have described the case as “simply silly” and “actually moderately strong“, so with limited knowledge of copyright law myself, I’ll defer to the experts on whether the case has any merit.

As an attorney whose briefs might be found on those databases (I’m too cheap to check!), I can’t say I have a problem with not being compensated by Westlaw and LexisNexis.  In part, this is because I am already being adequately compensated by my clients to write briefs.  I don’t need the promise of copyright protection to incentive me to write these briefs when my clients are providing all the incentive I need.  Further, because the clients are the ones who paid for the briefs in the first place, I’m not sure that the lawyers, as opposed to the clients, should be the ones outraged here.

The case is currently pending in federal court in New York and a summary with court filings can be found here.