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Westlaw is one of two major fee-based online legal research systems, providing access to state and federal statutes, case law materials, public records, and other legal resources. Its 16,000 or more databases contain legal information and much more. The West Key Number System is the West master classification system of U.S. law, claimed to be "the only recognized legal taxonomy".
Westlaw is a product of Thomson West , part of the Thomson Legal & Regulatory division of The Thomson Corporation, with branches in Argentina, Canada, Denmark, Spain, and Sweden. Because of the prominence of Westlaw within Thomson West's product offerings, many Thomson West customers use the name "Westlaw" to refer to the entire West organization.
In February 2005, after the ChoicePoint identity theft incidents became public, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer publicized the fact that Westlaw has a database containing a large amount of private information on practically all living Americans. Besides widely-available information such as addresses and phone numbers, Westlaw also includes Social Security numbers (SSNs), previous addresses, dates of birth, and other information lawyers use to do background checks on behalf of their clients. Westlaw responded to the controversy by announcing it had eliminated access to SSNs for 85% of its clients, mostly lawyers and government agencies. Access by law-enforcement officials will remain.
Westlaw's chief competitor, LexisNexis, is a division of Reed Elsevier. The two companies dominate the legal information services industry in the United States, and sometimes are referred to collectively as Wexis.
In the mid 1980s, Westlaw sued LexisNexis over copyright infringement (West Pub. Co. v. Mead Data Cent., Inc. 1986). LexisNexis's "star pagination" system, a feature which allowed users of either research system to find the printed page of a case without looking to the actual book, was found to infringe West's copyrights.
LexisNexis now pays Westlaw for a license to use the system.
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