Someone Needs a New Lawyer?

In Thomson Reuters: The Gang That Couldn't Sue Straight, James Grimmelmann does a takedown on the (seemingly) asinine Thompson Reuters complaint against GMU (!) about a faculty member's distribution of (widely available) free open source firefox plugin Zotero.

(I'm partial to the less powerful but very useful Scrapbook myself, but that's mostly habit.)

That said, it does seem to me that there is one interesting and potentially triable (i.e. not utterly out-to-lunch) issue in the case, and that is the extent to which a contract by a firm with a (state) university can bind its professors. Let's say that the contract at issue does prohibit GMU from distributing software like Zotero (not obvious it does, but bear with me). Does that prohibition bind the GMU faculty? I'm not sure; but to the extent the acts were within the scope of employment, it might. But of course it doesn't bind either James or me, since we're not parties.

And, as James points out, even if it does there's the little question of what sort of damages would be owing. Since the claim is contractual, there's no scope for tort damages, just contract damages, and it's hard to see how those would be measurable here — in which case the courts would usually count them as zero.

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2 Responses to Someone Needs a New Lawyer?

  1. There is also an issue of copyright misuse. Including essentially a “non-compete” clause in a software license could be deemed copyright misuse, which would bar Reuters from enforcing the license against GMU. See Lasercomb America v. Reynolds, 911 F.2d 970, 15 USPQ2d 1846 (4th Cir. 1990).

  2. Foo says:

    Zotero is not being distributed by a “GMU faculty member”. It is being released by GMU’s Center for History and New Media, which employs a lot of faculty, staff, and paid programmers (who are under work for hire). Such work is owned by GMU and is made open source at the whim of GMU, not some faculty member. So yes, they’re suing GMU.

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