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Richards v. Merriam Webster, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 26, 2014

JAMES T. RICHARDS, Plaintiff,
v.
MERRIAM WEBSTER, INC, Defendant

James T. Richards, Plaintiff, Pro se, Randolph, MA.

For Merriam Webster,Inc, Defendant: Douglas M. Eveleigh, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., Associate General Counsel, Chicago, IL; Kevin V. Maltby, LEAD ATTORNEY, Bacon & Wilson, P.C., Springfield, MA.

Page 206

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Indira Talwani, United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

James T. Richards (" Richards" ) filed suit against Merriam-Webster, Inc. (" Merriam-Webster" ) seeking a declaratory judgment that he may copy and use a substantial portion of the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (the " Dictionary" ) without violating Merriam-Webster's copyright. Because the court finds that all material facts in this case are undisputed and concludes that Richards' proposed use of the material in question would violate Merriam-Webster's copyright, Merriam-Webster's Motion for Summary Judgment [#33] is ALLOWED.

II. Background

In 2012, Richards undertook to develop a " textbook dictionary," aimed at improving the reading comprehension of its users. First Am. Compl. ¶ 23 [#17-1] [hereinafter Am. Compl.]. Richards began by converting an electronic copy [1] of the Dictionary into a set of Microsoft Word files. Id. ¶ ¶ 25-26. He then modified the dictionary entries by increasing the font size, underlining words for emphasis, increasing spacing between entries, redacting some etymological history, and inserting examples of how words might be used in sentences. Id. ¶ ¶ 28-29; see also Compl. Ex. C [#1-1]. Richards did not, however, make modifications to Merriam-Webster's definitions for each word. Compl. Exs. C-D (showing a side-by-side comparison of Richards' textbook and the Dictionary). In total, Richards copied approximately 70% (109,725) of the Dictionary's entries. Am. Compl. ¶ 28; Pl.'s Statement Disputed Material Facts Mot. Summ. J., 2 [#46] [hereinafter, Pl.'s Statement Disputed Facts].[2] The 30% of entries that Richards deleted were words that he believed to be rare or anachronistic and therefore less

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helpful to a textbook user. Am. Compl. ¶ 28.

In June 2013, Richards contacted Merriam-Webster requesting permission to use " virtually all the material" in its Dictionary for his planned textbook. Id. ¶ 30. Merriam-Webster responded via email, denying Richards' request. Id. ¶ 32. On February 4, 2013, pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, Richards filed his amended complaint before this court, seeking a declaration that publication of his textbook would not violate Merriam-Webster's copyright. Richards claims that (1) at least some portion of the Dictionary is comprised of definitions copied from earlier dictionary versions that have now entered the public domain, and (2) his proposed use of the Dictionary is permissible under the fair-use doctrine.

III. Discussion

Summary judgment is appropriate where " [t]he movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Genereux v. ...


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