Major textbook publishers sue open-education textbook start-up
Any initiative that tries to break this monopoly, especially smart and inventive ones like this. All this feels remarkably like trying to lock up learning and knowledge, which ought to be a crime. Like the music and film industries before them, the textbook industry responds to potential threats the only way anti-innovation incumbents know how: lawsuits, lawsuits, lawsuits.
Rage-inducing and despicable. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reports, three major Pearson, Cengage Learning, and Macmillan Higher Education, are suing a small startup company that produces open and free alternative textbooks. This startup, Boundless Learning, builds textbooks using creative commons licensed and otherwise freely available material – and this poses a threat to the three large textbook publishers. So, what do you do when you feel threatened? Well, file a copyright infringement lawsuit, of course.
Let’s back up for a second to explain exactly what it is Boundless Learning does. It is important to note this description of Boundless’ activities comes from the large textbook publishers themselves, since Boundless is still in closed beta and doesn’t want to open up at this point (the lawsuit might be a good opportunity to open up, to eliminate any doubts).
Students select the traditional textbooks from the big publishers that were assigned to them in class, and Boundless Learning then pulls all matter of content from free and open sources to create free and open versions of the textbooks the student selected. It’s important to stress that only free material is selected – texts and images that are licensed under creative commons, for instance.
According to the large three textbook publishers, this constitutes copyright infringement – even if no text or images are actually being copied. As an example, the three big publishers mention Boundless’ alternative to a Biology book (this one). The big publishers’ book uses images of a running bear and a fish-eating bear to illustrate the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Boundless’ alternative uses similar, but not the same, bear images, which came from Wikipedia, are licensed under creative commons, and are properly attributed.
It goes further than just Boundless, though. The textbook publishers are also suing venture-capital firm Venrock, which just invested $8 million in Boundless. Furthermore, they name 10 anonymous defendants, which include the people who are supposedly doing the “stealing”, and those that benefit from this supposed “stealing”.
Thom Holwerda on Sat 7th Apr 2012 17:52 UTC