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Boundless speaks up against textbook publishers crying ‘copyright violation’

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Boundless is trying to get rid of traditional textbooks while traditional textbooks publishers are trying to get rid of Boundless.

This ed-tech startup is fighting back against the three major textbook publishers that are suing it. Today, Boundless filed answers and counterclaims with the court, denying all allegations of wrongdoing.

“They are using litigation to try and stifle innovation,” said founder and CEO Ariel Diaz in an interview with VentureBeat. “They are trying to protect their stagnant product and wielding them as a legal offense.”

Boundless provides free digital textbooks and study resources to make educational content more accessible to students. Drawing from Open Educational Resources and a team of experts, Boundless offers an alternative to bulky and expensive textbooks that weigh most college students down on a daily basis. Thousands of students are responding well to the product, and Boundless raised $8 million last year to accelerate product development (aka the process of making physical textbooks obsolete).

The fact that students preferred more lightweight, cheaper, interactive content caused a few of the old-school textbook publishers to sweat. Last March, Pearson Education, Cengage Learning, and Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group sued Boundless with five claims. Since then, Boundless has made significant updates to the product, including SmartNotes summaries, flash cards, quizzes, tools to create collaborative study guides, social features as well as expanding into 18 academic subjects. Diaz said that the claims have no grounds, and furthermore, are based on Boundless’ 1.0 version, which has since evolved significantly, making them even more illegitimate.

“Three of the major publishers ganged up and sued us for a beta product that is no longer even available,” Diaz said. “We will continue to defend the original product while also highlighting that the product as it is today is fundamentally different. The content they are trying to protect is not copyrightable. The content in introductory textbooks are facts and ideas, and the order in which they are presented is pretty common for each subject area. These things are not copyrightable.”

Of the five claims, three are for copyright violation, one is for false advertising, and one for unfair competition. The complaint is that while Boundless takes its content from open resources, the “sequencing of the concepts” was wrongly taken. Lead counselor for the publishers Matt Oppenheim sent the following reply in an email:

“Last month, the Court rejected Boundless’ effort to dismiss the publishers’ claim that Boundless’ marketing practices were deceptive. Now, Boundless seeks to delay the publishers’ copyright infringement claim by asking the Court to take its eye off the ball.  Boundless knows that if their claims are permitted, the case will be substantially delayed from the fast track the Court has placed it on.  The law is clear that Boundless may not steal the entire organization and substance of a textbook and claim it for its own. Boundless’ obvious attempts at delay cannot obscure the truth that copying a textbook is not innovation.  Working to create pedagogically sound, digital textbooks that improve learning is true innovation, and the focus of the publishers.”
We’ll inevitably see more back-and-forth as legal battles tend to drag out for years. In the meantime, Diaz said Boundless will continue to innovate and develop ways to raise the effectiveness of education while lowering the costs.

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