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Boycott Thomson Research

My work currently depends upon Thomson Research’s EndNote. However, because Thomson is currently in the process of suing George Mason University for developing open-source Zotero, I will begin the process of looking for a replacement for EndNote. I recommend all educators to do the same, especially if they are in a position to make site-wide purchasing decisions. I will myself begin looking for a piece of software that can replace EndNote. In the meantime, of course, I will not upgrade my license and I recommend that all students and educators not purchase new licenses from Thomson.

I make this recommendation despite that I depend on Thomson Research’s EndNote for a substantial portion of my research and teaching. Using EndNote, I have built up a relatively complex and feature-rich custom export template. In addition to a two-month period where I generated the basic export template, the template has absorbed about a year and an half incremental changes. In short, my work absolutely depends upon EndNote. However, I use EndNote only as a go-between academic databases and Tinderbox.

Regarding the series of screencasts I have begun producing to describe how I use software and digital media in my research and teaching, it will take me some time to find a suitable replacement for EndNote in my workflow. My screencasts will continue as planned and I will abstract as much as possible the role EndNote occupies in my workflow with an eye toward eliminating it from my process entirely. For the immediate future, however, I will use my current version of EndNote.

The first version of EndNote I purchased a license for was EndNote 8. I did not actively use EndNote, however, until 2005 at which point I upgraded to EndNote X. Several months ago (back in May I believe), I upgraded to EndNote X1. Based on the EndNote product alone, I believed Thomson Research to be a very retrograde company. EndNote has a poorly designed database template mechanism and a virtually unusable database field editor. With regard to their maintenance of the program code, Thomson has stopped releasing bug fixes as of EndNote X1, choosing instead to charge licensed users $100 for upgrades.

While EndNote works reasonably well, the market for bibliography management software has a number of capable competitors. Papers, RefWorks, BibDesk, and Zotero are notable examples. I have been aware that Thomson has released EndNote X2 but have decided not to upgrade because the new software offers little for the price and fails to provide features which should have been included from the very first version. For example, in-place editing, unlimited display fields, and unlimited custom fields are not possible in EndNote. Shameful, really.

What I find particularly troubling about Thomson’s decision to sue George Mason University is that Zotero is publicly-developed open-source software that is highly regarded by many University librarians and academic researchers. To litigate against such a project is to be on the dishonorable side of the battle. The fate of the suit, should it reach the courts, will depend on whether Thomson can prove GMU is in breach of contract for enabling Zotero to produce EndNote-compatible documents.

My best guess is that GMU has technically and unwittingly violated the terms of use for EndNote. However, Thomson's lawsuit will only draw attention to open-source Zotero whose source code has, by now, been downloaded thousands of times. In fact, Thomson's suit advertises Zotero to the very people who would purchase EndNote licenses. But most importantly, if Thomson somehow manages to win their suit, research universities will begin scrutinizing license agreements for clauses which prevent them from producing intellectual property. This, of course, would be good news for academic researchers and bad news for software companies.

Reading between the lines, Thomson has probably recently seen its sales of EndNote licenses drop and they are attacking what they perceive the easiest (or most deserving) target. The problem with such thinking is that attacking open source projects is really just about the most foolish thing any company can do.

I wish Thomson Research as swift and painless an end as they deserve. end of article



You could switch to Bookends (http://www.sonnysoftware.com/bookends/bookends.html), which is considerably cheaper than Endnote: $99 new, $79 for a competitive upgrade from Endnote, and $29 for a regular upgrade. I did and imported everything over without any problems, although I didn't have any customized templates. For a list of bibliography managers, check out http://digitalresearchtools.pbwiki.com/Citation-Management-Tools


My best guess is that GMU has technically and unwittingly violated the terms of use for EndNote.

I wouldn't assume that at all. The Zotero team is neither stupid nor careless. I think it far more likely this is nothing more than legal intimidation. As a simple but important example, the suit seems to be based on the erroneous assumption that a) Zotero converts Endnote styles files to CSL files, and b) that Zotero have distributed such files. Neither are true. Zotero had read-only support to read Endnote style files, and the CSL files that are available were created in the most cases by hand.