Thursday, November 6, 2008

Endnote’s suit against Zotero headed to a courtroom

ArsTechnica provides an overview of the legal conflict between EndNote (the leading all-in-one academic research software) and its open-source competitor Zotero. I use Zotero for work, and I recently offered an enthusiastic endorsement of the Firefox add-on, which is still in beta. I’d be misleading you if I offered any insight on the nature of Endnote’s reverse engineering claims against Zotero. I’m not an intellectual property expert (or an expert on much at all :). But I do think the lawsuit opens an intriguing new front in the war between commercial and open source software (via Ars):

Zotero is an open source project led by a pair of academics, Dan Cohen and Sean Takats, at George Mason University's Center for History and New Media. Zotero is a plugin for the Firefox browser, and therefore cross-platform, and also has the advantage of being free. It also includes functionality similar to the Mac OS X application Papers, in that it manages PDF libraries, as well as offering users a way to insert references into a document.

The lawsuit, brought by Thomson Reuters against George Mason University and the Comptroller of Virginia, alleges that GMU is in contravention of their EndNote license with their newest version of Zotero, thanks to Zotero having allegedly reverse-engineered the file format that EndNote uses for citation styles in order to offer a similar functionality in Zotero. Thomson Reuters claims that GMU is causing "irreparable harm" to its brand, and is seeking to prevent GMU from distributing the offending application, as well as significant financial damages.

GMU denies this claim, insisting that, although Zotero can read EndNote's .ens files, the application does not convert that data to Zotero's .csl format. GMU has decided not to renew its site license for EndNote, and has re-released the controversial Zotero 1.5 Sync Preview.

Outside of Endnote’s claims against Zotero, I don’t think the extension is all that controversial. As I said in my earlier review, I think the software is an outstanding notemarking tool, even if you don’t ever use the whiz-bang academic features or import your research from Endnote. Indeed, it’s Zotero’s very powerful feature set and very free price that will continue to disrupt the market for expensive commercial options like Endnote.

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