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Ross, Brovins & Oehmke, P.C. v. Lexis Nexis Group

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Citation Edit

Ross, Brovins, & Oehmke, P.C. v. Lexis Nexis Group, 463 F.3d 478, 80 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1518 (6th Cir. 2006) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

Using a program provided by Lexis ("HotDocs Pro"), Ross, Brovins, & Oehmke, doing business as LawMode, created a number of templates (hereafter referred to as "Content") for completing Michigan legal forms. The program prompted information from users using dialog boxes and then automatically inserted the information into the corresponding fields on legal forms. Most of the forms designed under this agreement between LawMode and Lexis were approved by the Michigan State Court Administrative Office and in the public domain. The contract between these parties ended in February of 2002. Under the agreement LawMode retained ownership of all Content and registered its templates for copyright in 2003.

Starting in July of 2002 Lexis started publishing its own templates for filing out forms and three hundred fifty (350) of the four hundred six (406) Lexis forms also appear in LawMode's selection. LawMode filed a complaint against Lexis alleging copyright infringement, breach of contract, and various state-law claims for business torts.

Trial Court Proceedings Edit

LawMode voluntary dismissed its claims for [unjust enrichment]], unfair competition, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, and most of the breach of contract claims. Lexis filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the templates at issue were not protected by copyright and that, in the alternative, Lexis had not copied them. Lexis further argued that the contract claim was insufficient to meet the amount-in-controversy claim, that it was preempted by copyright law, and that the complaint did not adequately state a breach of contract.

The District Court granted the motion for summary judgment on the copyright claim but denied the motion on the contract claim, holding that while the forms were copyrightable, Lexis did not copy them and that there was no preemption because the existence of a contract is an additional element.

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

The court defined a compilation as a "work formed by the collection and assembling of preexisting materials . . . that are selected, coordinated or arranged in such a way that the resulting work as a whole constitutes an original work of authorship."

The Appellate Court held that LawMode's selection of forms was sufficiently creative for copyright protection but Lexis' selections were not similar enough to have infringed. Because only 350 of the LawMode forms were found in a collection of over 400 published by Lexis there was not enough similarity; to have infringed on LawMode's collection Lexis would have had to copy all of LawMode's selected forms.

The Court also held that there was no infringement of a valid copyright in LawMode's classification system because the only headings that Lexis "copied" were the ones that did not represent original expression; the only similarities are the headings which are copied directly from the public domain.

Because LawMode had used Lexis' program to create their templates there was a similarity between the dialog boxes and the look and feel of the programs, however, the court found the use of the HotDocs Program by LawMode to be too trivial to be original. Furthermore, the court refused to grant protection to the mere "automation" of the templates finding no copyright in the "interrelation of variables in the templates" ultimately affirmed the dismissal of the copyright claims under the summary judgment motion.

Holding that LawMode had alleged in its complaint that Lexis misappropriated its forms, the court held that LawMode could produce facts to support its contract claim and remanded for a determination of the facts.

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