Wednesday, April 11, 2012

3 major publishers sue open-education textbook startup

Chronicle | Open-education resources have been hailed as a trove of freely available information that can be used to build textbooks at virtually no cost. But a copyright lawsuit filed last month presents a potential roadblock for the burgeoning movement.

A group of three large academic publishers has sued the start-up Boundless Learning in federal court, alleging that the young company, which produces open-education alternatives to printed textbooks, has stolen the creative expression of their authors and editors, violating their intellectual-property rights. The publishers Pearson, Cengage Learning, and Macmillan Higher Education filed their joint complaint last month in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The publishers’ complaint takes issue with the way the upstart produces its open-education textbooks, which Boundless bills as free substitutes for expensive printed material. To gain access to the digital alternatives, students select the traditional books assigned in their classes, and Boundless pulls content from an array of open-education sources to knit together a text that the company claims is as good as the designated book. The company calls this mapping of printed book to open material “alignment”—a tactic the complaint said creates a finished product that violates the publishers’ copyrights.

“Notwithstanding whatever use it claims to make of ‘open source educational content,’ Defendant distributes ‘replacement textbooks’ that are created from, based upon, and overwhelmingly similar to Plaintiffs’ textbooks,” the complaint reads.

The complaint attempts to distance itself from attacking the legitimacy of open-education resources, but goes on to argue that Boundless is building its business model by stealing.

“Whether in the lecture hall or in a textbook, anyone is obviously free to teach the subjects biology, economics, or psychology, and can do so using, creating, and refining the pedagogical materials they think best, whether consisting of ‘open source educational content’ or otherwise,” it reads. “But by making unauthorized ‘shadow-versions’ of Plaintiffs’ copyrighted works, Defendant teaches only the age-old business model of theft.” Fist tap Dale.