Website Gets Pro Bono Help in Copyright Dispute Over the Posting of Routing Numbers

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SAN FRANCISCO--The website owner who the American Bankers Association alleges is violating copyright law for posting bank routing numbers is getting some pro bono counsel to dispute those charges.

In an Aug. 23 letter to ABA counsel Nigel L. Howard with Covington & Burling LLP in New York, Andrew B. Delaney of Charles S. Martin & Associates LLC in Barre, Vt., questioned why the ABA is claiming copyright to routing transit numbers.

The ABA in a June 5 letter to website owner Greg Thatcher contends the website is reproducing without authorization the nine-digit routing numbers as each of the 29,000 numbers is an “original copyrighted work carefully selected and arranged as a result of the ABA's creativity” (124 PTD, 6/27/13).

“We know that you don't really have much to gain from intimidating our client and you will probably leave him alone, which would be a wise choice. The public will see you and your client as big bullies if you pursue action against Greg,” Delaney said in a three-page letter heavy with footnotes.

“We're not charging Greg because we used to use his site a lot. And we never paid him anything. But then you wrecked if for everyone. That wasn't nice,” Delaney said in a footnote.

“Because Greg is very concerned about potential copyright infringement, and your letter actually scared him, we want to set the record straight,” Delaney said, adding in a footnote that scaring Thatcher “wasn't nice either.”

Howard told BNA Aug 27 that he had received the letter which “will be reviewed and discussed with the ABA and a response sent in due course.”

Routing Numbers Like Telephone Directories

Routing transit numbers are like telephone numbers for banks that provide the requisite information to identify the bank, Delaney said. There are two forms of numbers, the fraction form and the magnetic ink character recognition form. Both include a group of four digits that comprise the Federal Reserve Routing Symbol that as a U.S. government work is not copyrightable, another four digits comprise the ABA institution identifier, and the final digit is a check identifier.

“So, even assuming arguendo that the ABA Institution Identifier is a fully copyrightable work, the ABA's and Accuity's allegedly copyrightable portion of any routing number is only 44.4% of the entire number,” Delaney said.

“Even that we have trouble buying,” Delaney said, adding in a footnote: “And we went to law school, which just illustrates how gullible we are.”

ABA said it contracts with BankersAccuity, owned by Reed Elsevier PLC, to manage the routing numbers and publish the ABA Key to Routing Numbers.

Delaney, who added attorney Jorge V. Pivar-Federici as signatory in a footnote, said there is no copyright notice on the download. “And you must be aware that information itself isn't copyrightable. It just isn't,” the letter said, with a footnote: “No matter how much one might want it to be. Even if one wants it like the Spice Girls want a 'zigazig ha.’ ”

The attorneys point to Feist Publications Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340, 18 U.S.P.Q.2d 1275 (1991), in which “this real important Court’’ held the company that copied the phone book did not infringe because it was just information. “I know, right? I remember reading this case and being all like, No way!” said another footnote.

The pro bono attorneys proposed ABA allow Thatcher to put back up his site. “Even without your permission, I will likely advise him to put his site back up,” Delaney said in the copyrighted letter.

The letter to ABA counsel is available at

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