If you are at all familiar with the open textbook world, you’ve likely heard of the startup called
Boundless Learning. Leveraging information in the public domain, as well as dipping into the enormous
stockpile of learning that is Open Education Resources, Boundless Learning has a created a tool that
hopes to eventually replace the traditional textbook model.
Just like “open” anything, however, Boundless Learning has not gone without its fair share of trouble
from vested industry interests. Recently, the textbook publishing giant Pearson, along with MacMillan
and Cengage, filed a complaint alleging copyright infringement. Even though Boundless Learning
culls its information from material available to the public through Creative Commons licensing, the
publishers allege that “Defendant [Boundless Learning] exploits and profits from Plaintiffs’ successful
textbooks by making and distributing the free “Boundless Version” of those books in the hopes that it
can later monetize the user base that it draws to its Boundless Web site. In short, to build its business on
Plaintiff’s intellectual property rights.”
Boundless Learning, on the other hand, claims that the accusations are patently false. The startup states
that it only uses information already in the public domain, and said in a Boston.com article, “you can’t
copyright facts and ideas. When you look at educational information, it’s primarily facts and ideas.”
Boundless Learning will soon send out a legal response, and has expressed disappointment that the
textbook publishers didn’t communicate with Boundless Learning amicably before resorting to litigation.
So what does this mean for the open textbook movement? Can we expect more lawsuits of this nature
against innovative businesses? For one, Boundless Learning has truly launched a paradigm-shifting
product. Most open textbooks are presented to students in PDF format using e-readers and other
devices. However, Boundless Learning has extended beyond just digitizing traditional books by offering
more. Their content is distinctly interactive, and students may build upon Boundless Learning material
in a way that closely resembles both Facebook and Wikipedia. You can study along with other students,
help each other in the learning process, and do it all online. For free.
Lawsuits of this sort aren’t anything new, and it’s important for those of us who are believers in the open
textbook movement that we understand what we’ll have to fight against to live in a more open society.
While Boundless Learning may have been careless in copying the format of copyrighted textbooks,
down to the pagination, it does offer a platform that is new, that goes beyond mere open versions of
closed textbooks. It’s with this innovative spirit that we can effectively, legally, and affordably, make
information available to all. The world is not yet open, but we can get it there.
This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who writes on the topics of online university. She
welcomes your comments at her email Id: firstname.lastname@example.org.