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William S. Lerach says he’s sick and tired of having his hard work ripped off by copycat lawyers. Lerach, one of the nation’s best-known plaintiffs’ securities class action counsel, has taken a novel step. He’s begun placing a copyright notice on his court filings and registering the notice with the U.S. Copyright Office. Lerach began the practice in late September with a brief he filed in federal court in the Northern District of California in a case against Intel Corporation. His copyright notice reads: “This writing/publication is a creative work fully protected by all applicable copyright laws, as well as by misappropriation, trade secret, unfair competition, and other applicable laws.” Additionally, the notice claims that the “authors of this work” have added value “to the underlying factual materials” through such means as “unique and original selection, coordination, expression, arrangement, and classification of the information.” So far, the notices appear only on Lerach’s filings, and have not yet been adopted throughout his firm, Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach of San Diego and New York. To date, he says he’s placed notices on filings in “about five different cases.” Lerach’s using the notice “selectively” for cases that “we feel truly reflect substantive creative work and significant investigatory investment,” he says. When pressed for examples of times his works have been “ripped off,” Lerach declined to comment. Is a brief a copyrighted work? Perhaps, says Professor Stephen R. Barnett, who teaches intellectual property at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. Despite the use of other legal sources, “a brief may well have the requisite originality of expression” to qualify for copyright protection, he says. Himself an occasional author of appellate briefs, Barnett says, “It’s not easy to write a good brief. Every good appellate lawyer knows that.” But having a copyright and getting a judge to enforce it are two entirely different matters. “When you file a brief, you dedicate it to the public for its use in litigation,” he says. “There is a tradition of copying the briefs freely.”

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