“Innovative” Textbook Creation


Many institutions and companies have tried in recent years to control the cost of college textbooks. While ultimately books are a very small part of the price of college, coming up with an alternative to the current book store strategy might save students a signification amount of money. Perhpas more importantly, however, coming up with an alternative has the potential to make developers of book alternatives very rich. So people are trying hard.

One attempt to control the cost of textbooks, however, appears to be very problematic. According to a piece by Jason Tomassini at Education Week

Boundless Learning, a young but fast-growing company in Boston that curates open education content for college students, so they don’t have to pay hundreds (thousands, even) on textbooks, has been sued for copyright infringement. Textbook giant Pearson, along with Cengage Learning, and MacMillan Higher Education filed the complaint, alleging that Boundless is essentially trying to replicate three of their textbooks with “shadow versions” using free digital content. Using Creative Commons licenses, the company bases the content it recommends on the titles of the textbooks students are assigned.

In an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education, Boundless Learning CEO said the publishers are “using litigation to protect an antiquated business model.”

Well perhaps. But the fact the content is supplied by an antiquated business model doesn’t mean it’s okay to steal it.

According to the lawsuit, Pearson, Cengage Learning, and MacMillan Higher Education argue that Boundless Learning essentially hires people to “copy and paraphrase” from real textbooks. The plaintiffs argue that Boundless copies the structure, organization, and images of many existing textbooks, “right down to duplicating Plaintiffs’ pagination.”

Boundless (“connecting [students] with the wealth of high quality, openly licensed, and free educational content that has been created by leading educators and institutions over the last 20 years”) seems to argue that it’s only making use of open source educational content. This is perhaps a legally justifiable point, though this looks like a business strategy built out of plagiarization. [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer