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A law firm battling the term-paper mill industry’s alleged theft of academic work has stepped up its attack with an unusual pro bono class action and a quiver full of legal claims, including copyright infringement, fraud and civil racketeering. McDermott, Will & Emery, which secured a settlement for a single plaintiff in a case against term-paper operator R2C2 Inc. and its owner Rusty Carroll last year, opted for the class action route to attack alleged abuses in the industry and by Carbondale, Ill.-based R2C2. Blue Macellari v. Rusty Carroll, No. 05-01461 (S.D. Ill.). Bringing a class action coupled with claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) offers the chance for triple damages and greater injunctive relief, said McDermott’s Evan Parke, who is handling the case. In the earlier case, Blue Macellari sued R2C2, Carroll and a Web-hosting company in August 2005 for improperly using a research paper she posted on a Web site she created for a class during her undergraduate years at Mount Holyoke University in the late 1990s. Macellari learned of the postings on three R2C2 sites while enrolled in a joint-degree graduate program at Johns Hopkins and Duke universities in 2004. Macellari and R2C2 settled the case in January, Parke said. Details of this settlement are not disclosed. But the case tapped a wellspring of similar victims. “I was amazed at how many people contacted us who were in the same boat,” Parke said. Despite the settlement, R2C2 has not stopped its unauthorized use of other people’s materials, Parke alleged. The class action complaint estimates the class size at more than 40 and “as many as tens of thousands” of members. R2C2 owns three Web sites: www.doingmyhomework.com, www.freeforessays.com and www.freefortermpapers.com. Carroll did not return a call seeking comment. James Bennett of Dowd Bennett in Clayton, Mo., and K. Lee Marshall of Bryan Cave’s St. Louis office, his attorneys in the Macellari case, could not be be reached for comment. The named plaintiffs are Chad Weidner, who is currently a lecturer in English at Roosevelt Academy in the Netherlands, and his wife, Karolien Walravens. Chad Weidner v. Rusty Carroll, No. 06-00782 (S.D. Ill.) The pair say R2C2 fraudulently posted a term paper they wrote in 1998 while Weidner attended an exchange program at a German university. The paper had been posted on the German university’s Web site for more than six years. The couple discovered R2C2′s use of it during a periodic Web search to determine if other academics were citing their work. “This type of issue where you have rampant unauthorized use of someone else’s information is widespread on the Internet, and it’s just now beginning to be dealt with,” Parke said. “We have the potential to represent thousands of class members, including universities and professors.” The cases are related to the digital music theft cases, but since the term-paper writers don’t earn money from their academic work, they’ve had to make innovative claims about the losses they’ve suffered, said Dan Hampton, a litigator and intellectual property lawyer in the Boston office of Holland & Knight. In the Macellari case, the plaintiff was subject to the honor codes of the schools she attended and her term paper’s presence on R2C2′s sites made it appear as if she condoned and participated in plagiarism, Hampton said. The Weidner case also invokes reputation damage issues, he noted. “They have to make a creative argument of harm because they don’t suffer from lost sales,” Hampton said. Since most of the people whose work is taken are unlikely to have registered a copyright, the plaintiffs’ copyright claims face a major hurdle, said Hampton. Although original work is copyrighted when it is created, some courts have ruled that a copyright owner needs to at least apply for a copyright registration in order to start a lawsuit, while other courts have required an actual copyright registration, Hampton said. Parke said that “[m]any people don’t copyright the materials they’ve posted on the Internet, but it doesn’t mean someone else can use that information and make money off of it without authorization.” He said further: “We believe there’s a solid jurisprudence to allow our clients to protect their rights beyond the protection afforded by the copyright act.”

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