Star Pagination of Legal Materials

Detail-obsessive lawyers like to cite to specific pages in legal materials that support their factual or legal assertions. Sometimes court rules require them to do so.

When the legal material appears in multiple versions, there is a similar desire to cite to the pages in the original version. As a result, publishers of the subsequent versions developed a practice of including the page numbers in the original version in addition to the page numbers of the subsequent versions. This practice became known as “star pagination.”

Blackstone's Commentaries

This practice is believed first to have been used for the later editions of Sir. William Blackstone’s treatise, Commentaries on the Laws of England. It was first published in four volumes in 1765-1769, was long regarded as the leading work on the development of English law and played an important role in the development of the American legal system.[1]

West's National Reporter System

In the U.S.’s pre-computer days, our court decisions were printed in books, the most popular of which for lawyers were published by West Publishing Company (West) of St. Paul, Minnesota.[2]  These books were known as the National Reporter System, and the published court opinions also included editorial enhancements by West that summarized and classified key points on law in those opinions. Over time, these reporters became the de facto (and sometimes de jure) official sources for U.S. judicial opinions.[3]

As a result, when computerized legal databases and services became available, there was a desire, if not a market need, for the providers of those services to have star pagination of judicial opinions in their databases to the previous reports of those decisions in the National Reporter System.

One of the first computerized legal research services was LEXIS in 1973 from Mead Data Central, Inc. (MDC) of Dayton, Ohio. At first it only had materials of two states (Ohio and New York) online, but by 1980 it had materials from all the states and federal government.[4]

In June 1985 MDC announced that it was adding star pagination to the LEXIS service. This new feature would consist of “the addition of the official page cites to the full text of online case law material.” This would eliminate the physical necessity of referring to the volumes of the National Reporter System publication in which the reports appeared.[5]

In response, West sued MDC for copyright infringement in Minnesota’s federal court.[6] MDC retained Faegre & Benson to defend the case with the assistance of MDC’s Wall Street lawyers (Sullivan & Cromwell), and I was a member of the Faegre team for the case.

The initial skirmish of this war between the two major competitors in the then new field of computerized legal research was West’s application for a preliminary injunction to ban LEXIS’ star pagination to West publications while the litigation proceeded to trial. I argued this motion for MDC. Unfortunately the court granted the preliminary injunction. The court by Judge James Rosenbaum held that the page numbers and arrangement of cases were within the scope of protection of West’s copyrights, that the proposed star pagination by MDC infringed those copyrights and went beyond fair use and that a preliminary injunction was warranted based upon likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm, balance of harms and the public interest.[7]

MDC exercised its right to an immediate appeal of the granting of the preliminary injunction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. This time, a Sullivan & Cromwell partner argued the case for MDC. Unfortunately the result was the same. The Eighth Circuit, 2 to 1, affirmed the preliminary injunction.[8] The U.S. Supreme Court thereafter denied permission to bring the issues before that Court.[9]

Later, without Faegre’s participation and according to press reports, MDC and West entered into a settlement agreement that ended the litigation and that granted MDC a license to include star pagination in LEXIS along with West’s corrections to judicial opinions for an annual licensing fee of $50,000.[10]


[1] Wikipedia, William Blackstone, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Blackstone; Wikipedia, Commentaries on the Laws of England, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commentaries_on_the_Laws_of_England.

[2]  In 1996 West was acquired by The Thomson Corporation (n/k/a Thomson Reuters). (Thompson Reuters, Company History, http://west.thomson.com/about/history/default.aspx.)

[3]  Id.

[4]  Wikipedia, LEXISNEXIS, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LexisNexis. West’s competitive computerized legal research service, WESTLAW, was introduced in 1975. (Thompson Reuters, Company History, http://west.thomson.com/about/history/default.aspx.

[5]  West Publishing Co.v. Mead Data Central, Inc., 616 F. Supp. 1571, 1575 (D. Minn. 1985).

[6]  See Post: Minnesota’s Federal Court (June 28, 2011).

[7]  616 F. Supp. 1571.

[8]  West Publishing Co. v. Mead Data Central, Inc., 799 F.2d 1219 (8th Cir. 1986).

[9]  Mead Data Central, Inc. v. West Publishing Co., 479 U.S. 1070 (1987).

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dwkcommentaries

As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

2 thoughts on “Star Pagination of Legal Materials”

  1. I’m in high school and starting next year I will have to start looking at colleges. I know I want to find a college just for creative writing. I love writing stories of all sorts, and I know of a couple colleges that specialize in creative writing. But where would you recommend? Remember, I’m talking about creative writing, not journalism. Any suggestions?.

    1. Creative writing–poetry and novels–was never my talent or interest. Thus I have no great suggestions for you. But if I were you I would look for a college that was strong overall in the humanities and social sciences with a good creative writing component. You may change your mind (more than once) when you are in college. Good luck.

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