The Mark of Zotero

This just in, via beSpacificReuters is suing George Mason University for violating the Endnote TOS. Apparently (though I’m not sure I really understand the issue – this news story is very cryptic) Reuters claims the organization violated the terms of service when they analyzed ways to convert style files from Endnote to Zotero. Reuters (parent company of ISI, parent company of Endnote) accuses Zotero’s programmers of reverse-engineering Endnote files to make the conversion possible and that this threatens to destroy their customer base.

Some chat at Zotero suggests the legality of using the style files (many of which were contributed by users of Endnote) to be a bit murky. Some bloggers say the allegation is false, and that this is a SLAP suit. Others wonder if this means anyone who migrates their citations from Endnote to something else are equally liable. (Of course, anyone who has tried to import Web of Knowledge citations into RefWorks knows the company is not happy with competition and is willing to sacrifice user satisfaction on that altar.)

And hey, couldn’t MLA, Chicago, APA, and CBE sue Reuters for reverse-engineering their style manuals and destroying their customer base? Just asking.

Want to follow the paper trail? The Disruptive Library Technology Jester explains how. And Jystar raises a fascinating issue: “law suits like this really make me wonder if the current scheme of intellectual property law in the US actually fosters innovation. or … fosters bullying and enables large corporations, backed by lots of money and lawyers, to edge out any smaller competition, even if the competition is superior?”

Good question.

UPDATE 10/06: Michael Feldstein at e-literate, who at first thought Reuters might have a point, has learned more about the claims and now thinks … they probably have misrepresented what Zotero did. Via a comment at the Chron.

There’s now much talk of boycotting Thomson/Reuters. Given the number of companies and products involved, it may be hard to do since they own Westlaw, ISI, Findlaw, all kinds of business, financial, medical, and accounting resources, not to mention the Reuters news service.

About Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

5 thoughts on “The Mark of Zotero

  1. In a post on his own blog, Richard Wallis notes:

    Following that link to Endnote export styles [link] you end up on a page containing the following words: “EndNote output styles are provided solely for use by licensed owners of EndNote and with the EndNote product.”

    What’s interesting is the fact that this sentence was recently (within the last 8 months) added to the site. The January 13th snapshot of that page in the Wayback Machine doesn’t have that sentence. I wonder when it was added. In both cases (the current page and the Wayback Machine snapshot), the note at the bottom says “This page was last modified on: November 4, 2005″ — I would disagree.

  2. Very interesting – and good job of sleuthing. Sounds as if they’re trying to close the barn door. And letting a stale update notice make it seem as if the door was closed years ago.

    I got the impression that many of those styles were contributed by Endnote users, which makes you wonder about the status of those styles as exclusive property of one company.

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