Reuters sues academic for making a Firefox plugin that lets you annotate and reference articles

Espen sez, "In a move leading me to suspect they have hired laid-off lawyers from RIAA, Endnote (owned by Reuters) has sued GMU and Dan Cohen for the latest version of Zotero (a Firefox plugin that lets you save, annotate and academically reference articles you find online). This is an amazingly stupid market move: Suing an academic for making software for other academics because the software allows you to convert styles (which in turn were freely contributed by other academics) - when your main market is academics."
For my part, I’m going to refuse to use Reuters’ software in future, strongly discourage graduate students from buying EndNote, and try to get this message out to my colleagues too (at least those of them who aren’t using Zotero or some BibTex client already). If I taught any classes where Thomson printed relevant textbooks, I would be strongly inclined not to use these texts either. I encourage you to do the same (and, if you’re so minded, to suggest other possible ways of making it clear to Reuters that this kind of behaviour is intolerable in the comments). People have argued that the music industry has screwed up badly by suing its customers – whether that’s true or not, makers of academic bibliography software should be told that suing universities for what appear to be entirely legitimate actions is not likely to do their reputations any good.
GMU sued for Zotero (Thanks, Espen!)


  1. I didnt even know this software existed! I doubt ill be using endnote in future now.

    Well done thomson-reuters for taking legal action against this company. Otherwise, i wouldnt have known it was out there! Thanks for the tip-off.

  2. Silly academics! Developing your own free research tools that have no license expirations and no fees paid to private corporations is illegal!

  3. I hope that they are giving Reuters Corporate some time to react before they start laying out with the Retribution Stick. Sometimes corporate lawyers aren’t supervised very closely and go biting the wrong hands (they can’t help it, it’s their nature). Give their handlers a chance to jerk the choke-chain before kicking them in the nuts.

  4. It looks like the legal standpoint for their claim is an EULA. Somebody really needs to get those things, and their many relatives, declared legally worthless.

  5. Zotero is brilliant. EndNote is crap–and expensive crap at that. Reference managers, with their $100+ price tags and mid-1990’s features, were in a prime position to be overtaken by community-developed, open-source solutions. I’ve been showing Zotero to all grad students in my former program and all researchers I work with. They are always quite impressed.

    Reuters, instead of spending that money on lawyers, why not improve your awful product?

  6. YEEEEEEEES – this will be the beginning of the end of that pile of crap that endnote is.

    academica is pretty much locked in this software – its worse than the word monopoly. and thomson really has put out crappy updates after crappy update, milking grad students and academics of their pennies.

    and just don’t get me started on the mac port: this is the worst piece of mac software known to man – utter crap and barley usable.

    zotero is an awesome product. a free-open source citation manager offering webbased features that endnote can only dream of.

    one thing is for sure – this lawsuit will just generate more publicity for zotero. wait until lessig and co pick it up…

  7. Dammit, EndNote was a Thompson product, not a Reuters product.

    And it was Thompson that bought Reuters and not the other way around. So no idea (other than underinformedness) why everyone is calling it “Reuters”.


    BTW, the Thompson Reuters CEO has a blog.

  8. #3:Give their handlers a chance to jerk the choke-chain before kicking them in the nuts.

    As if THEY ever showed US such courtesy.

    And am I the only reader who had to go to Wikipedia to look up what the heck Endnote is?

  9. I’ve been using EndNote for about 10 years and it’s probably saved me weeks of work in that time. But it is over priced (and frequently upgraded or bug-fixed at cost to the user) and a poor port to the Mac to boot. So for those reasons I’ve been trying BookEnds coupled with Mellel rather than Word + EndNote. But I’d not heard of Zotero either, so as @1, thanks Thomson for the tip-off!

  10. #! I hadn’t heard of it either, now I’ll snatch it up and use it. Hooray for the Streisand Effect!

    #2: A dog that bites requires more than an apology, it should be put down.

  11. If converting from one file format to another is infringement, then would MS have a case against OpenOffice? (And if not, doesn’t that suggest that the case against Zotero is bogus?)

    Assuming this gets tossed out of court, GMU and Cohen should give a nice thank-you to Reuters for Streisand Effect-ing their product to greater notice–it looks pretty nifty.

  12. I hope that they are giving Reuters Corporate some time to react before they start laying out with the Retribution Stick.

    Nuh-uh, no. The sole point here is not to fix Thompson Reuters’ policy. The important secondary purpose would be as a salutary object lesson for other software companies to get their lawyers on a leash or else.

  13. UPDATE: “Endnote export styles [contains] 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 MachineL28 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.”
    [from Disruptive Library Technology Jester]

    PDF of Thomson Reuters’ complaint filed in Richmond (VA) Circuit Court

  14. Also note that Zotero has not done any converting (despite Thomson’s complaint). They used to be able to read EndNote’s proprietary style files & use them as is to format citations (the feature has been (hopefully temporarily) removed since the complaint).

    Thomson claims that Zotero converts them into the open CSL format, but this simply isn’t true & all of the many CSL styles that Zotero supports were written by hand or created in an online style generator.

  15. Seeing how I hadn’t even heard of Zotero before, I technically owe Reuters a thank you. That looks like an incredibly useful plugin.

  16. Well spotted bbreader! The styles for EndNote are downloadable by anyone who uses the website, and the license thing was definitely not on the output styles page ( even as recently as January of this year. So Zotero should be able to claim they did not violate a license because none was asserted. (Not a lawyer of course)

  17. Whatever the legal merits of their suit (which are debatable), I think Thomson has shot themselves in the foot from a marketing perspective.

    I have a longer blog post at Everybody’s Libraries that gives an overview of the case, and argues why the legal action is likely to accelerate scholars’ moving to Zotero, and why consumers should be wary of products like EndNote that rely on proprietary formats.

  18. I currently have Endnote X.0.2 (Bld 2007) and I find it hopelessly irritating and old-fashioned. I have no control to define my own fields, can only add one image per citation, and the information cannot be made into a form that is visually more appealing and accessible to me personally.

    I downloaded Zotero 4 months ago, but haven’t really gotten around to exploring it yet, but I feel motivated to do so by this story.

    WTF Reuters?! — this is like that AP (?) story last year where they decided that you have to pay to quote a sentence from a news story.

    Little does Reuters realize that there are people like me who would rather hand-correct every damned citation than be complicit is supporting the shutting down of free-invention and exploration of technology. Reuters has lost another client over this.

    I guess I’ll be learning Zotero this week so I can teach it to my undergraduate writing students when we get to “citations” week.

  19. I concur with some of the comments above.

    I have a paid version of Endnote which is very finicky and clunky bloatware.

    Since I discovered the Zotero FF plugin a while ago I have been using it for all my references and recommending it to the students in the graduate class I teach.

    I saved my data from my Endnote files and uploaded it into Zotero, no fuss no muss. I would highly recommend it.

    This lawsuit is completely bogus and I will be expressing my dismay on the Thompson Reuters CEO web site. Thanks for the link.

  20. @8: Actually it’s ‘Thomson Reuters’ not ‘Thompson Reuters’. I know intimately, since I work for them and we’ve had the new branding hammered into our heads since the first day of operating as a single company.

    That said, I come from the Reuters side, so I have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with EndNote. Put those burning torches and pitchforks away!

    It’s a shame about this though. It doesn’t really seem to be in keeping with the Reuters principles which Thomson Reuters is supposed to also follow, and it’s certainly not doing our brand any good (#44 in the world, apparently… yet nobody’s heard of us. How do they calculate again?)

  21. The three major citation programs (Endnote, Procite and reference manager) available are all owned by the same company so good luck with the boycott.

  22. Zotero is particularly good for internet research, as you can take snapshots of a web site at any time, and keep a series of time-stamped snapshots of the same site for analysis. It would probably be a good idea to start Zoteroing the EndNote EULA page regularly, to monitor the kind of changes noted above.

    (At a minimum, Zotero that page in the Wayback Machine in case it goes.)

    Zotero rocks, EndNote clunks.

  23. Mekentosj’s Papers is the Research and Refrence Manager tool of the future. They may not have all the reference tools built in yet, but Papers is a really young software. By 2.0, Endnote won’t stand a chance against Papers.

  24. The sad fact is that there really isn’t a decent EndNote clone or similar that works with OpenOffice. I agree that EndNote blows a whole load (particularly the fact that they’re in version TEN and there’s still no option to add references to a bibliography that haven’t been directly cited in the text, and that the links from the document to the library seems to only work intermittently!), but it’s the only game in town.

    I’d never heard of Zotero either, but I’ll definitely check it out. I’d rather have a standalone app than a Firefox extension though; and I’d certainly miss the (albeit rudimentary) Cite While You Write EndNote offers.

    Can anyone confirm the post above that import from EN into Zotero has actually been disabled? That’s another hindrance to a switch. I want so desperately to get away from this awful product (in fact, it’s probably the only application standing between me and a full install of Ubuntu), but there still doesn’t seem to be a decent alternative. It’s surprising that there isn’t, really, given how many academics rely on it’s features.

  25. Thomson-Reuters prints law books, which makes me think for some reason that they might actually have a case. (Or at least a lot of lawyers on their side.)

  26. “Can anyone confirm the post above that import from EN into Zotero has actually been disabled?”

    The suit only deals with import of style files from EndNote (which tell the program how to format references for different publications).

    You can still export the references you’ve collected in EndNote, and then reimport them into Zotero, if you like. Here’s a post on the Zotero blog explaining how to do it.

    Zotero also offers extensions for and MS Word; see this page for details.

    (I haven’t used these tools myself; the information above is what I found when searching the web.)

  27. Looks like a death-spasm from Endnote – Zotero is hands-down superior, and with its regular updates is constantly getting better. I feel both sorry for and ashamed of people who still use Endnote – its like keying in individual letters instead of using predictive text when SMSing.

  28. @Matt Volatile
    As John confirmed, you can still import your EndNote library into Zotero. What you can no longer do is use EndNote undocumented .ens files when you use Zotero’s word processor integration (as it was disabled).

    Zotero and Bibus are both decent reference managers that work with Writer directly. There are others that can work through OO.o Writer’s (fairly weak) built-in bibliography manager.

    Give Zotero and the OO.o plugin a go–they work well & you can even round-trip citations between OO.o Writer and MS Word! Zotero will let you post-edit a bibliography.

  29. Unfortunately, as a scientist, it’s not just about me and what I use.

    What about collaborators and colleagues who use EndNote or (gasp!) Word? Or what about all of the document templates that journals require me to use that are Word only?

    Yeah, zotero looks great, but it doesn’t work with Word2008 on the Mac which is an absolute dealbreaker. Mind you, I’m not against open source software and the like. I need the thing that just works(TM) and, whether I like it or not, it’s just not zotero.

    I wish it were different: I wish I could take tens of thousands of references and clunk them into another program that will work with my word processor with zero (or at least minimal) effort.

    I don’t have time to cobble together a half-assed workaround to get program A to work with word processor B to do the things that the software that I already have does with no effort. Then I have to open converter C to make file D that collaborator E made on computer F readable to angry scientist G.

    Yeah: EndNote sucks as a program. And yeah, Word2008 sucks as a program. My fear is that I (and many like me) have no choice.

  30. The Steve,

    Zotero can format and manage the references, and you can have Word keep things organized with its footnote/endnote functionality.

    What else do you need?

  31. @The Steve

    For papers that you start, why not use Zotero? It isn’t as if your collaborators and colleagues can’t freely obtain it for themselves.

    OO.o Writer can serve fairly well as an MS Word substitute & version 3.0 has even more promise for this. I’ve encountered very few journals that really require a specific Word template & OO.o can use templates anyway.

    There is an alpha version of a Mac/Word 2008 that will be released soon:

  32. @The Steve

    I’m a scientist too and I have successfully switched to Zotero and Open Office. So far I’ve submitting several articles with little pain. I have been able to collaborate well with co-authors and have tried to turn them on to Zotero but with varying degrees of success. I’m not expecting The Steve to change his mind, I’m just mentioning this for the benefit of scientists out there who are open/ready/willing/able to try an alternative to the Word-Endnote hegemony.

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