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WestLaw takes a shot at ROSS

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I came across news that Thomson Reuters, the legal research giant most well known for WestLaw, sued storied LegalTech Firm ROSS Legal for stealing its content. This came right after Thomson Reuters settled a lawsuit with a contractor hired by ROSS Legal to provide legal data to it. ROSS Legal has hit back, claiming that the lawsuit has no basis. Its real aim, according to Ross, is to “[interfere] with [Ross Legal’s] chances of securing more funding or merging with other companies”. This is not going to end easily.

This episode shows the perils in the legal information industry and data science. Deep learning and artificial intelligence need data to thrive. However, information, especially in the legal industry, may be protected by copyright and other intellectual rights. If you built a proper product but it somehow wrongfully uses materials belonging to others, your product is essentially doomed.

This keeps me up at night. pdpc-decisions does not distribute copyrighted material, even though it automates downloading them. Does using a robot to do this, or performing automated processing on decision data constitute copyright infringement? Unlike the US, primary law materials in Singapore are not clearly “free”. If I built a product like ROSS Legal here, would I be at risk of being sued?

Insofar as LawNet is concerned, even though the language dates from the 90s, it is far more clear that the Terms of Use do not permit automated processing.

4.              Usage Conditions

4.1           You may download, print, e-mail, transmit electronically and store reasonable copies of the Content purely for your personal use or for your internal business purposes.

4.2           You must not do or permit or cause any other person to do the following without SAL's prior written consent:

4.2.1      reproduce, duplicate or copy the whole or any portion of the Website or Content, except to make reasonable copies as stated in Clause 4.1;

4.2.2      modify, adapt, translate, publish, display, transmit, broadcast, podcast, webcast, distribute, sell, resell, trade or exploit for any purpose, the whole or any portion of, or any access to, the Website or Content;

4.2.3      use the Website or Content for the provision of outsourcing or the running of service bureaus; or

4.2.4      whether manually or with the help of computer programs, download or attempt to download information for the purpose of creating or adding to an electronic search or retrieval facility (online or otherwise).

4.3           You may not decompile, reverse engineer or otherwise attempt to discover the source code of the Website, or permit or cause any other person to do so, without SAL's prior written consent.

I have noticed that apart from this, none of the other sites actually consider automated processing. Maybe nobody has been interested in doing this sort of thing in Singapore. Do you have a different opinion of what it would take to make legal information more accessible? Feel free to let me know in the comments!