Last month, the textbook publishers Pearson, Cengage Learning, and Macmillan Higher Education filed a joint copyright lawsuit against the open education resource start-up company Boundless Learning. The publishers allege that the one year old company violated their intellectual property rights by producing open education resources that use the creative expression of their authors and editors.

In order to understand the publisher’s argument, it is essential to understand how Boundless Learning produces their textbooks. When a user visits Boundless, they input the textbook they were assigned by their professor and then the company will begin to create a free comparable alternative. Boundless gathers content from a range of different open-education sources and combines the information to build a textbook that is similar to the professor’s recommended textbook. The company calls this “alignment” or the mapping of a printed book to open material. The publishing giants say that the alignment procedure creates a finished product that is “created from, based upon, and overwhelmingly similar” to the textbooks Boundless are trying to replace, violating the publishers’ copyrights

Ariel Diaz, the chief executive of Boundless, was interviewed by The Chronicle and he denied the publishers’ copyright infringement claims and noted that they are not charging students for access to their textbooks. He accused the publishers of “using litigation to protect an antiquated business model,” employing “anti-competitive tactics” to insulate themselves from market forces, and trying to monopolize elements of learning that should be freely available. However, when Mr. Diaz was asked to describe how Boundless gathers the content for their open-education textbooks and if they hire individuals to copy and paraphrase from the publishers’ textbooks, he declined to elaborate in order to not hinder their litigation.

Cengage Learning declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing a company policy against discussing pending litigation. Pearson and Macmillan Higher Education did not respond to requests for comment at the time of the article’s publication.

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