The War continues

Another volley in the continuing legal skirmish between publishers and open-access educational materials. Now Pearson, Cengage and Macmillan are suing Boundless Learning for infringing their copyright by organizing their free textbooks (Econ, Psych and Biology) in a similar manner to the the publishers’ texts, possibly using similar features and illustrations, and specifically recommending them as free alternatives to the publishers’ texts.

I’m not qualified to judge the merits of the lawsuit, and I want to avoid reflexively rooting for Boundless Learning – it’s for-profit from what I can tell and they may be trying to mimic the pages of the other texts, presumably to sync up with assigned pages. But more broadly, if publishers can claim financial harm because others are making competing textbooks that follow the standard pedagogy of a discipline (which these publishers/authors did NOT create on their own), we’re in a world of hurt. Can the makers of a free version of a Western Civ textbook be sued because they create a book with separate chapters for the Ancient Near East (including an excerpt of Hammurabi’s Code and a photo of the pyramids), Greece (Plato excerpt and photo of Parthenon), Rome (Pliny and map of greatest extend of Empire), the Middle Ages (Crusades account and photo of medieval crucifix) and the Renaissance (Pico della Mirandola and a Da Vinci), put them in chronological order, and include maps of the various empires and timelines? Who exactly owns the copyright to that?

Story and comments at Inside Higher Ed: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/hack-higher-education/oer-textbook-startup-sued-publishers-copyright-infringement and at Chronicle of Higher Ed: http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/3-major-publishers-sue-open-education-textbook-start-up/35994

Reminder to self: Don’t use Pearson, Cengage and Macmillan texts in my classes.

My textbook order is now due for the fall semester, and I’m trying to minimize the purchased texts as much as possible, replacing them with online material (primary sources mostly) from Google Books and elsewhere. Plus I make my timelines and maps to give the students some reference materials as well. In fact, Wikipedia has some of the best historical maps I’ve seen for specific early modern periods, especially if you look at the non-English sites for their own histories (e.g. the Spanish-language Wikipedia for Spanish history).

Thoughts?

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