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Thomson Reuters Sues Over Open-Source Endnote-Alike Zotero 181

Noksagt writes "Thomson Reuters, the owner of the Endnote reference management software, has filed a $10 million lawsuit and a request for injunction against the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia's George Mason University develops Zotero, a free and open source plugin to Mozilla Firefox that researchers may use to manage citations. Thomson alleges that GMU's Center for History and New Media reverse engineered Endnote and that the beta version of Zotero can convert (in violation of the Endnote EULA) the proprietary style files that are used by Endnote to format citations into the open CSL file format."
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Thomson Reuters Sues Over Open-Source Endnote-Alike Zotero

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  • by Noksagt ( 69097 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @06:52PM (#25180331) Homepage

    I hoped that I kept the article summary relatively free of my personal opinion, which I will indulge in this comment:

    Thomson Reuters has too many asshats.

    Let us set aside the fact that academic software and those who develop academic software should embrace interoperability and knowledge sharing.

    I'll even set aside that, despite the (rewritten) title, Zotero has many fundamental differences from EndNote.

    The complaint is, in the words of Bruce D'Arcus, [] "a nuisance lawsuit designed to intimidate." Zotero's style repository [] contains no EndNote .ens styles and seems to contain no styles derived from those styles. CSL styles are created manually [] and through an online style creator []. There is no way to get a new CSL style from an .ens file--the Zotero beta had mapped fields internally to allow .ens files to be used independently of CSL (but even this feature has been disabled in the trunk). Zotero thought about copyright issues surrounding this feature [] and came to the right decision--not to distribute .ens files or .csl files derived from .ens files, but to retain the feature to work with user-provided .ens files (similar to the way can open and save MS Office files).

    I have decided not to purchase EndNote and I am asking my employer to do the same, unless the suit is dropped. I intend to donate at least as much as an EndNote license costs to George Mason University [], the Software Freedom Law Center [], the Electronic Frontier Foundation [] or any other applicable entity that both defends Zotero in this case and solicits donations. (I don't know any organization who has stepped in on this case yet, but I imagine that one of these organizations can provide some sort of legal support in the future.)

    I encourage you to stop purchasing Thomson products too. There are plenty of reference managers [] for all platforms (some proprietary, some free/open source) that you can choose instead, not the least of which is Zotero [].

    Disclaimer: I am a developer of refbase [], a free and open source reference manager that might be seen to compete with Thomson Reuters's EndNoteWeb. I have and continue to use many reference managers. While I have many technical complaints about the EndNote products, they aren't the worst technical products. Thomson may be the worst socially, though--in addition to inane and baseless lawsuits, they are very slow to respond to general feedback.

  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @07:29PM (#25180567) Homepage

    > even if Zotero does allow users to convert from EndNote's style format to other formats,
    > there's nothing inherently illegal about that.

    Reuters is not claiming (at least in the initial complaint) that there is. They are claiming that the defendants contracted not to reverse-engineer Endnotes and then did so, breaching the contract.

    > this is like suing filesystem developers because they include a copy feature in their
    > software that allows users to potentially make illegal copies of files.

    No it isn't.

  • Re:Same old story (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 27, 2008 @07:32PM (#25180589)

    Actually no, Endnote does not do citation management that well. That was one of the main reasons why Bruce D'Arcus started the project. The Citation Style Language (CSL) can handle more types of citations than Endnote can.

    You are also wrong thinking that this is easy to implement, but I can tell you that there are many many cases where citations can require formats that are quite though to catch in xml properly. Most implementations I have seen are too crude to do a totally reliable job. Even with CSL we still find things that are rather tough to express.

    I do strongly think that CSL is a great step in the right direction for citation management. I sure hope it will get picked up much more. Endnote is in my eyes a rather poor product. It has a lot of styles and a lot of momentum, but it lacks in some important areas. This lawsuit for me shows that with CSL the CiteProc project is on the right track, because apparently it scares the hell out of Thomson/Reuters. I like healthy competition, but lawsuits like this are just petty and show only how immature these people are.

    [Disclaimer, I am the author of CiteProc-Py, which is the Python implementation of a CSL citation processor. -- Johan Kool]

  • Reverse engineering (Score:5, Informative)

    by Noksagt ( 69097 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @08:58PM (#25181143) Homepage

    They are claiming that the defendants contracted not to reverse-engineer Endnotes and then did so, breaching the contract.

    They haven't

    They have:

    21. On information and belief, GMU reverse engineered or decompiled the EndNote Software and proprietary .ens style files contained within the EndNote Software (emphasis mine)

    While there are some style files included with EndNote, there are many user-created styles & Thomson makes MANY more styles [] available with no stated license and third parties (individual EndNote users) have created many more over the years. EndNote cannot claim a EULA on a file format (especially one that many people and institutions have created and distributed) & nobody has shown evidence that the EULA on the software has been violated through the decompilation of EndNote (because that never happened).

    The code that you link to is in beta software and does not export a stand-alone CSL file. I know of no CSL file that has ever been publicly distributed that was derived from an .ens file.

  • by RisingSon ( 107571 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @09:02PM (#25181165)

    Thomson Reuters has too many asshats.

    Agreed! I dealt with them for almost a decade. I was a Bridge customer, bought by Reuters maybe 7 or 8 years ago. I also used lots of Thompson data and have colleagues who have had their companies purchased and ruined by Thompson as they so often do. I must say that a high percentage of folk I've had the pleasure to work closely with in this uber conglomerate are, in fact, asshats. Its appalling what they want to charge for data and services and their contract agreements are only second worst to Bloomberg. I've barked at their mismanagement and have actually received personal apologies from the then only Reuters senior executives. It ain't pretty.

    Its not surprising this buy-the-competition-worry-about-merging-later abomination is looking for $$ now that the economy and pending regulation changes are destroying a solid chunk of the Thompson Reuters customer base. Look for them in the news again shortly.

  • by grandpa-geek ( 981017 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @09:19PM (#25181271)

    Virginia was one of the two states that stupidly enacted the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA). Maryland was the other. Maryland made a few significant changes; Virginia changed very little.

    UCITA allows nasty provisions to be inserted in EULA's and is tilted to favor the large, downstream licensor (such as Reuters). IIRC, the version of UCITA enacted in Virginia doesn't even guarantee the licensee access to a copy of the license after the licensee clicks "I Accept" and allows EULA provisions under which the licensor can post revisions to the license on a web page at any time with the licensee being bound to the revised license without any other notice.

    With Virginia being a UCITA state, I wouldn't make any assumption about the strength of Reuters' case or what seems reasonable in a proper system of law. UCITA could let Reuters get away with things that would shock the conscience of anyone with a sense of fairness.

  • Re:LaTeX + BibTeX? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Noksagt ( 69097 ) on Saturday September 27, 2008 @09:48PM (#25181421) Homepage

    Both EndNote and Zotero can export BibTeX. Zotero can import BibTeX and you can transform BibTeX into a file format that EndNote can import.

    Reference management software normally provides more than a single BibTeX file does--it can retrieve citation information in a way that is faster/easier than "wget http://some_publisher/some_journal/some_volume/some_paper/import.bib [somepublisher] && cat import.bib >> bibtex_file.bib" (and can convert it if that site has no native BibTeX file. Zotero can index attached PDFs for full-text searching. It has much better support for UTF-8. You can easily give your bibliography to others who don't use BibTeX. You can store your notes and highlights on articles in your database. There are a ton of other features too.

    BibTeX is a good (if somewhat dusty) file format that I use often. It is not the sole solution to reference management.

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @12:08AM (#25182123)

    First off EULA's are not enforceable.

    Sorry; I wish this were true, but it's not. EULAs have been found firmly to be enforceable by the courts.

    But enforceability of the EULA is a question that may arise in this case. And the question of enforceability of EULA may depend on which court the case is heard it. No court has made a ruling that says EULAs are generally enforceable are not.

    Some courts have found that certain EULAs were enforceable in certain circumstances, others have found that certain EULAs were not enforceable, so there is still some hope that sanity may set in with the courts and the legislatures.

    Additionally the laws vary from state to state; some states have passed UCITA, and EULAs are more likely to be found enforceable there.

    EULAs are a matter of contract law which is a decision of the states; so it is very possible that such an agreement may be completely legal, valid and enforceable in some states, whereas other states specifically prohibit or do not give EULAs much weight in court (favoring protection of the general public's liberty instead of the corporation's privilege to restrict).

    See Blizzard vs BNETD []

    At issue in this case was whether three software programmers who created the BnetD game server -- which interoperates with Blizzard video games online -- were in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and Blizzard Games' end user license agreement (EULA).

    The court issued summary judgement in Blizzard's favor, on the matter of the EULA, they found it enforceable, and that the authors of BNETD had violated it.

  • by feijai ( 898706 ) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @12:18AM (#25182177)

    First off EULA's are not enforceable.

    They are in Virginia, one of two states to enact UCITA.

    Guess which state George Mason University is a state school of.

  • by buswolley ( 591500 ) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @01:54AM (#25182543) Journal
    Zotero is fantastic, and I've been using it for about a year now. BTW, they have Word and Open Office plugins too.
  • by wanax ( 46819 ) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @02:20AM (#25182617)

    I totally agree in general. I've been very impressed with Zotero, and have found it adequate for basic academic needs. My main issue with it is that there's no method of syncing or consolidating and index or database between multiple comps. Since I do all my writing on my Mac laptop, I've moved over to [] which I've found to be exactly what I'm looking for.. It has the database feature, easy complex searches like Endnote, and costs ~$26 for students, ~$50 for others. But if you don't use a Mac, Zotero is definitely the best I've used. If you are up to keeping everything on a USB key, you can keep your papers consistent no matter the comp with Zotero.

  • by belmolis ( 702863 ) <billposer&alum,mit,edu> on Sunday September 28, 2008 @02:56AM (#25182723) Homepage

    If you're a scholar you need to cite your sources when you write, in a variety of formats, and you also need to learn about publications in the areas you work on. A citation manager helps you do this. The core of a citation manager is a bibliographic database. Each record corresponds to one journal article, book, technical report, or publication. Each record contains information about the author or authors, title, name of the journal, volume, number, pages, etc. A citation manager also contains import tools of two sorts. One kind allows you to import bibliographic information in bulk, so that you can incorporate bibliographies that other people have prepared. The other kind extracts information from other single citations. Suppose that you are reading a journal article on-line and that it references something that you should look up. The input tool will let you select the on-line citation and assist you in entering it into your database.

    The other major function of a citation manager is formatting, which is what is at issue here. Different publications require bibliographic information to be formatted differently. For example, some put journal names in italics, while others use a normal slat. Some put the year of publication in parentheses, others set it off with periods. Some put the journal volume number in bold face. You might have something like:

    Watson, James D. and Francis Crick (1953)
    "Molecular structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid," Nature 171:737-38


    Watson, James D. and Francis Crick. 1953.
    "Molecular structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid. Nature 171.737-38

    Instead of having to manually format each bibliographic entry, the citation manager keeps the information in a format-free abstract representation (that is, each piece of information in a separate field) and lets you choose the format in which to export references for use in your paper. In order to do this, it needs to have a specification of the style used by the publication for which you are writing, where each style contains information like "journal volume number appears in bold face" and "year of publication is surrounded by parentheses". EndNote has a collection of several thousand such style files, which are in its own proprietary format. Zotero currently has a much smaller collection of style files, which are in its open XML-based format. EndNote is claiming that Zotero has breached a contractual prohibition against reverse-engineering their software in order to create a tool for converting style files from EndNote's format to Zotero's.

  • by kipton ( 135584 ) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @09:53AM (#25184069)

    My main issue with it is that there's no method of syncing or consolidating and index or database between multiple comps.

    There is a Zotero beta available which does provide synchronization support (its called 1.5 sync preview, available here [].)

    For those not familiar, let me give a short advertisement for Zotero. I'm a Mac user, and I recently switched from Safari to Firefox just for Zotero. Zotero makes it possible to add a citation entry to my library with one click in Firefox. Another nice feature is Zotero's ability to determine citation information for loose PDF's. And did I mention that Zotero is free?

  • by pjrc ( 134994 ) <> on Sunday September 28, 2008 @09:58AM (#25184103) Homepage Journal

    weren't there a bunch of alternative PDF readers long before Adobe made PDF an open format?

    Adobe from the very beginning of PDF claimed it was an open and fully documented format.

    I believe the very first open source PDF reader was "xpdf" created by Derek Noonburg. I used it for years before Adobe finally released their own, and I still use it today because it is much faster and simpler.

    For years there was quite a bit of tension between Derek and Adobe. His xpdf viewer, at one time, would display messages asking people to contact Adobe and make good on their claim that the PDF format was truly open, mostly with respect to the rather lame encrypted PDF features. As I recall, at one point it even printed the name and phone number of someone at Adobe. Supposedly people at Adobe blamed xpdf's programs on Derek (supposedly calling him incompetent publicly) and utterly denied they had not documented their format. Derek published on his web page exactly what features were not documented.

    Today there are many other PDF viewers, though for a very long time xpdf was pretty much the only alternative to Adobe's. I haven't looked at their code, but I suspect most of them are based largely on Derek's original code. For one small anecdote along those lines, here is an advisory [] were Derek found integer overflows in his original xpdf code, which also effects all these other open source PDF viewers.

    My point in all this is that, while today it may seem there have always been lots of PDF viewers, in reality they are mostly (if not all) due to the long, hard work of one determined man. While he didn't have to reverse engineer Adobe's software, it was nonetheless a long, difficult struggle to get the missing bits of info. We all benefit today, even though Derek probably doesn't get nearly the credit he well deserves.

  • by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Sunday September 28, 2008 @12:16PM (#25185081)

    How exactly can an EULA be enforced against someone who doesn't own the software though?

    Because the University that developed and funded development of the open source software does own some copies of the proprietary software subject to EULA, presumably because they had some researchers/professors buy it at the University's expense.

    If they were subject to the terms of the EULA it doesn't matter whether they still use the software or not; only whether or not they agreed to the contract and installed the software and then reverse-engineered the software in violation of the contract.

    The university are not primarily being sued for "End users" violationg the EULA, or interference with the EULA. That was not the case with Blizzard VS BNETD either; the finding was the developers MUST HAVE violated the EULA since they had to install the software to reverse-engineer the network protocols. The charge was never that end-users violated any EULA by using the software.

    The users of Zotero software and others who do not own EndNote, or did not install EndNote do not agree to the EULA and are not subject to it.

    However, if the court determines the EULA was enforceable and the University developers violated it, they do have a possibility of awarding the copyright to Thompson as renumeration.

    They can even cancel/void the open source licensing, and allow Thompson to take recourse against users/further distributors of the software for copyright infringement.

    That's the worst-case scenario for the public, as I see it.

"It takes all sorts of in & out-door schooling to get adapted to my kind of fooling" - R. Frost