In his Chronicle of Higher Education article 3 Major Publishers Sue Open-Education Textbook Start-Up, Nick DeSantis reports on a joint complaint filed in federal court by publishers Pearson, Cengage Learning, and Macmillan Higher Education against start-up Boundless Learning. The three publishers maintain “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.” Evidently, Boundless Learning offers “free substitutes” to published print textbooks by gathering open-source materials similar to the printed content in the textbook. Boundless “calls this mapping of printed book to open material “alignment.” The three publishers whose titles are being “mapped” see it as a practice that “creates a finished product that violates the publishers’ copyrights.” They argue that the textbook start-up is producing and distributing materials “based upon, and overwhelmingly similar to Plaintiffs’ textbooks.” Ariel Diaz, Boundless’s chief executive counters saying that the publishers are using the court system “to protect an antiquated business model… employing what he called anti-competitive tactics” to insulate themselves from market forces.”
Obviously this is a big issue. Is Boundless guilty of” intellectual theft” as claimed by the three publishers or is their lawsuit an attack on open education resources in defense of a dying business model? And speaking of business models, how does Boundless plan to make a profit providing “free textbooks” to students? Where do you draw the line between the legitimate use of free open education resources available on the web and copyright infringement of protected materials. This is one of a number of game changing issues facing libraries, publishers and the rest of academe.