The Lawyer Who Took Down West’s Copyright in Court Opinions Has Died

It now seems almost ludicrous. But until fairly recently, legal publishing giant West claimed that it owned the copyright to federal court decisions. I’m not talking about the headnotes West writes or the key numbering it adds, I’m talking about basic information such as the name of the case, the date of the case, the names of the attorneys who argued it, and the page numbers of the opinions.

That all came to a screeching halt with the 1998 companion opinions of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, both titled Matthew Bender & Co., Inc. v. West Publishing Co.158 F.3d 674 and 158 F.3d 693.  These were the David-versus-Goliath cases in which HyperLaw, then a publisher of Supreme Court and federal circuit cases on CD-ROM, challenged West’s longstanding claim of ownership and won.

Paul J. Ruskin was one of the lawyers who won those cases for HyperLaw and, in so doing, changed the course of legal publishing immeasurably. In fact, had it not been for those cases, there probably would not be the Google Scholar versions of the opinions I linked to in the previous paragraph, nor any of many other versions now freely available on the Web.

Ruskin died April 27 after a battle with cancer. A 1981 graduate of Antioch School of Law, he was admitted to practice in New York, Pennsylvania and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

His Web site is still up, as a memorial to him. On it, he provides a detailed synopsis of HyperLaw’s long battle in court.

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Tagged: caselaw
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