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Lawsuit; (a) definition:

What companies often do to smaller competitors when they fear they otherwise cannot compete on the merits of their products.

Make no mistake, this is a nuisance lawsuit designed to intimidate. To quote from the complaint:

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.

So what are they complaining about here?

  1. They say that GMU reverse engineered Reuters’ EndNote software to create Zotero. They cannot possibly demonstrate any evidence to support this claim, as it is not true. What Zotero does in order to read Endnote style files is no different than what, say, does to read Microsoft Word binary files. All the Zotero team did was figure out how to map the style files to Zotero internal style structure, which has no connection to Endnote, but is in fact based on development work on CSL. Thomson’s complaint, then, has the same merit as if Microsoft were to sue for its ability to read .doc files.
  2. I suppose they might have some legal basis for complaining if Zotero distributed Endnote style files (no doubt most of which are developed by Endnote users), but they do not.
  3. Finally, Zotero does not technically convert Endnote style files to CSL files; this only happens internally.

It is my hope that individuals and institutions see this lawsuit for what it is, and that it becomes yet another reason to in fact support Zotero (and other free solutions) and move away from Endnote. It is also my hope that Zotero and George Mason are not intimidated by this, and that they might see some help on the legal front to fight it.


  1. Thomson is such an awful company in almost every way …

  2. Re. point 2: The suit alleges that Zotero “is blatantly and freely distributing to third parties converted proprietary .ens style files from the EndNote Software”

    and that they are “allowing and encouraging users of Zotero to freely convert the EndNote software’s proprietary .ens style files into open source .csl style files and further distributing such converted files to others.”

    I, like you, am not aware of any such infraction actually occurring. Many CSL files are manually created. The instructions for how to create CSL files at encourage this. A large number of styles have been created by the online tool. None of the online styles claim to originate from EndNote (although they don’t all contain full author information).

    Supposedly, Zotero was first warned of the issues Aug. 4 & I also hope that they can mount a strong defense.

    My employer has a limited number of EndNote seats & many here have purchased individual licenses. Despite the fact that EndNote is not my preferred reference management software, I had considered doing the same. I have a lot of complaints about EndNote, but it is very common & so it is nice to have on hand for when I need to edit a document that already uses it, to test interoperability with other reference management software (I have created .ens files from scratch to improve interoperability!), and/or for file conversion. This lawsuit has lost Thomson Reuters at least one customer, as these “nice things to do” are unable to counter the damage that they hope to create by this filing.

  3. Respecting Thomson’s copyright was an early concern of Zotero’s developers & I think that they came to the right decision (not to distribute original or converted files):

    Sadly, EndNote style support was disabled in the trunk on Sept. 22.

  4. Bruce D'Arcus says:

    Thanks for the info Rick.

    Yes, AFAIK, there is absolutely no CSL style in existence which is programatically converted from any Endnote style file. That claim is empirically false.

  5. Johan Kool says:

    This is absolutely insane! But in another way, it does show that you are on the right track with CSL and CiteProc, as are the Zotero people. It is starting to scare Thomson that these projects even exist.

    I like healthy competition based on who has the best features, but this kind of ‘competition’ is just petty. I, like you, just hope that the attention that this will create for Zotero, CSL and CiteProc will in the end just have the opposite effect of what they are trying to achieve.

  6. Peter Murray says:

    I agree that there seems to be no real basis for this. I’ve got instructions on how to look at the lawsuit in Virginia’s court document management system in a post on my blog, although as of this weekend it doesn’t look like the text of the complain has been posted.

    @Richard Karnesky — do you have access to it? You seem to be quoting content that is not in the Courthouse News Service story.

  7. @Peter is discretely linked in the Courthouse News Service story.

  8. Peter Murray says:

    @Richard — Great! Thank you.

  9. Alex Thurgood says:

    Well Thomson are apparently being counselled by EAPD, a fairly large IP law firm, and Virginia is alleged to be one of the ‘rocket docket’ states so it should turn out to be interesting. The initial complaint is a bit thin on the ground when it comes to justifying where the material breaches have actually occurred, no doubt discovery will be requested in order to determine what actually went on behind the scenes during the development of Zotero, and the capability of Zotero to map ENS to CSL. As for the amount requested in damages, well, it should be reminded that they do not appear to be claiming copyright infringement (unless I’ve overlooked it), rather more a breach of the terms of the licence agreement that bound GMU to Thomson for having acquired the product, and then trademark infringement for using the word “Endnote” in promoting compatibility. It’ll be interesting to see whether the court/jury considers the ENS to be an essential component though, and I seriously doubt that Thomson have lost 10 million in alleged lost sales because of the development of Zotero, that claim might turn out to be rather tough to prove in front of a jury !! If you really want to have an idea of what chances of success this case will have for Thomson, you should look into the previous US case law dealing with interoperability issues, some of it is already quite old, but then the DMCA came along :-(, the same with the trademark infringement claim. Whether or not they are in breach of contract will depend on the facts, the state law binding the contract and any effect that VA law might have on the interpretation or applicability thereof. Alex