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Thomson Reuters Filed Suit against Zotero

October 30, 2008


Zotero, the popular open-source research tool, has gained great attention from many users, as well as institutes, over the world. Now including Thomson Reuters, whose products include that famous bibliography software, EndNote, and the journal database service, ISI Web of Knowledge. However, unlike the praises that Zotero usually receive from the users, it is the lawsuit they have got from Thomas Routers.

What’s the problem with Zotero? As mentioned in this Nature Editorial [Nature 455, 708 (9 October 2008)]:

Thomson makes the proprietary bibliography software EndNote, and claims that Zotero is causing its commercial business “irreparable harm” and is wilfully and intentionally destroying Thomson’s customer base. In particular, Thomson is demanding that GMU (George Mason University) stop distributing the newer beta-version of Zotero that allegedly allows EndNote’s proprietary data format for storing journal citation styles to be converted into an open-standard format readable by Zotero and other software. Thomson claims that Zotero “reverse engineered or decompiled” not only the format, but also the EndNote software itself.

The company is seeking a minimum of US$10 million in damages annually until GMU halts distribution of Zotero’s new feature. It also demands that GMU “terminate” the ability of each Zotero user to use or distribute any open-source files converted from EndNote’s own data format.

Apparently Thomson Reuters isn’t happy that Zotero can import the EndNote-format file into its database (not the bibliography format .ris but the style format .ens. See the Peter’s blog entry or the comment below). Here is the official statement form Zotero team.

It’s like Microsoft Office vs (OOo). Will Microsoft sue OOo because OOo office suite can convert Microsoft’s formats into other open-source formats? That question was asked in 2004 and at least Microsoft didn’t acted on it. Microsoft’s Office suite still has the major market share. They probably have thought that OOo wouldn’t be a real threat to their “beloved” product.

Unlike similar open-source bibliography tools, Zotero has many promising features that might lure users away from the commercial softwares like EndNote. E.g. smoothly working with MS Word and sync/sharing in the future version. That’s why Thomson Reuters claims that Zotero is causing its commercial business “irreparable harm”. 🙄

Well, Thomson Reuters should have some confidence on their product like Microsoft does.

Anyway, I already prefer Zotero or JabRef over EndNote, even though the school already bought the campus license for EndNote. And after seeing Thomson Reuters’ action, I’m happy with my choice and hope GMU will win the case.

PS: JabRef also can convert EndNote format into the open-source format. Does the creator of JabRef have to worry about this?  (The answer is “No”. See the comment below)

Updates: For more details regarding the lawsuit, check this entry in Peter’s blog and his follow-up stories. Also about UCITA from Wiki and from GNU, which is realated to the lawsuit. Viginia, where the lawsuit is filed, is one of two states that have passed this act.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Rick permalink
    October 30, 2008 4:00 am

    PS: JabRef also can convert EndNote format into the open-source format. Does the creator of JabRef have to worry about this?

    No–this case is not about the open and long-standing formats for storing reference data (e.g. RIS), but the undocumented formats for styling citations (i.e. .ens files). JabRef can import the former, but not the latter & they may not have the same contractual obligations with TR as GMU had.

  2. October 30, 2008 7:55 am

    Rick, thanks for pointing this out. 🙂

    I also realized that the difference after reading Peter’s blog entry.

  3. Allison permalink
    October 31, 2008 11:25 am

    Statement issued by Thomson Reuters can be read here:

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