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Major Textbook Publishers Sue Open-Education Textbook Start-Up

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the not-with-our-books dept.

Education 278

linjaaho writes "Three major textbook publishers have sued a startup company making free and open textbooks, citing 'copyright infringement,' as the company is making similar textbooks using open material. From the article: 'The publishers' complaint takes issue with the way the upstart produces its open-education textbooks, which Boundless bills as free substitutes for expensive printed material. To gain access to the digital alternatives, students select the traditional books assigned in their classes, and Boundless pulls content from an array of open-education sources to knit together a text that the company claims is as good as the designated book. The company calls this mapping of printed book to open material "alignment" — a tactic the complaint said creates a finished product that violates the publishers' copyrights.'"

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First Waaaaaaahh!!!1 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619405)

Emo tears for everyone.

Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619409)

Since you can't copyright facts and figures only their presentation and form, as long as the arrangement, structure and alignment is different, they don't have a leg to stand on.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (3, Informative)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619455)

An analysis of facts and figures can also be copyrighted, and many textbooks (particularly liberal arts) contain as much analysis as anything else.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (5, Insightful)

Steve Furlong (9087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619495)

they don't have a leg to stand on.

You're applying common sense, not a wise practice when it comes to law. Especially not when it comes to "law" as practiced in the modern US. If a bunch of publishers get together and lobby aggressively I wouldn't be surprised if a court found that a sufficient degree of similarity existed, thereby violating copyright. And if the court didn't find it, well, Congress can amend the copyright law and I think the US Copyright Office can regulate matters a bit.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619729)

Considering that the open sources which contain the documentation / resources used are already out there in the wild, and no-one is suing them, then it is only the arrangement or total content aggregate that they could be suing for, since the content cannot be refuted or sued for copyright infringement, and as long as the arrangement doesn't impinge, then the fact that the content accumulated covers the same sets of topics but in the words of those already published as open content, there is no legal leg to stand on. That is what was inferred by my previous comment.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619839)

You're applying common sense, not a wise practice when it comes to law. Especially not when it comes to "law" as practiced in the modern US. If a bunch of publishers get together and lobby aggressively I wouldn't be surprised if a court found that a sufficient degree of similarity existed, thereby violating copyright. And if the court didn't find it, well, Congress can amend the copyright law and I think the US Copyright Office can regulate matters a bit.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39620015)

It's not not wise to apply common sense to anything having to do with the educational system. Ironically, many of the administrators and teachers that make up the US educational system are some of the dumbest asses around.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (5, Insightful)

similar_name (1164087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619527)

It doesn't matter. They don't need to win, they only need to drain resources from Boundless and scare off investors.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619699)

I think it's time to end all this BS.

Just create an official "license to kill competition". It shall allow to just call a judge and cry "WHaaaa Mr. Judge! They are making me lose money! WHaaa" And the judge will just send the police.

Just make the license expensive enough. And then find a way of dealing with the thousands of jobless lawyers.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (5, Insightful)

Defenestrar (1773808) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619531)

Not necessarily, depending on implementation it could also be considered derivative work from the table of contents or structure of the original text. Remember that even paraphrasing can be copyright violation (although not always). If I take a paragraph of someone's work, reword it, and pass it off as my own (or as a public domain work), that is infringement. Also remember that style, and other artistic considerations can also be protected work. The key to this case will be in the method of "alignment."

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619781)

Table of contents are like phone books - listing of facts and locations - non copyrightable.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619865)

Anonymous Coward wrote:

Table of contents are like phone books - listing of facts and locations - non copyrightable.

Please cite case law demonstrating that tables of contents are excluded under 17 USC 102(b).

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619933)

Oh, I think he was just applying common sense. It's very possible that the nonsensical US copyright laws say otherwise.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (5, Informative)

thelexx (237096) | more than 2 years ago | (#39620057)

U.S. Copyright Law

Is the Table of Contents Copyrightable?

Bernard C. Dietz, current head of the renewal section of the examining division of the U.S. Copyright Office, October 17, 1991, stated in his deposition, "...it has to be kept in mind that in the vast majority of cases the table of contents itself is not copyrightable; it's nothing more than a listing of the citations in the book. There has to be something uniquely attributable to that author of the table of contents to make it copyrightable."

From here [urantiabook.org] . (Never heard of that book before. The world is bizarre.)

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (3, Informative)

CarsonChittom (2025388) | more than 2 years ago | (#39620061)

Anonymous Coward wrote:

Table of contents are like phone books - listing of facts and locations - non copyrightable.

Please cite case law demonstrating that tables of contents are excluded under 17 USC 102(b).

Indeed, while IANAL, given Feist Pubs., Inc. v. Rural Tel. Svc., Inc. 499 U.S. 340 (1991) [justia.com] it would appear that case law supports the idea that tables of content are copyrightable, though it depends somewhat on whether the content itself is copyrightable or mere fact, and the "creativity" in the arrangement of it:

Where the compilation author adds no written expression, but rather lets the facts speak for themselves, the expressive element is more elusive. The only conceivable expression is the manner in which the compiler has selected and arranged the facts.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (2, Informative)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619789)

rewording a paragraph and passing it off as your own is plagiarism, not copyright infringement. Two entirely different things.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39620033)

And if you copy word for word and cite properly it is not plagiarism. i.e. quoting people on /.. The whole copyright system is borked. I think the courts should run away from enforcing this stuff. Everyone doesn't understand what is going on and publishers like it that way. Its how they profit. It probably harms the artists too from lost avenues of revenue.

catchap:fanciful

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (4, Informative)

MojoRilla (591502) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619949)

Taking a paragraph of someone's work and rewording it may not be infringement. See the Wikipedia article on close paraphrasing [wikipedia.org] for exceptions. Close paraphrasing of copyrighted text is not allowed when it is substantial, but is also allowed when there are limited ways to say the same thing.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39620027)

..you want to bring copyright into education, you want to make money off of education? Fuck you.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (1)

firex726 (1188453) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619541)

Yea, is the start-up actually using any of the text from the established publishers?
If not then I don't see how they can claim copyright.

Non-literal copying: the choice of a bear (4, Funny)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619909)

Yea, is the start-up actually using any of the text from the established publishers?

According to the article, the start-up is accused of non-literal copying. The plaintiff's textbook illustrates thermodynamics with a non-free photo of a bear running and a non-free photo of a bear catching a fish. The allegedly infringing textbook illustrates thermodynamics with a free photo of a bear running and a free photo of a bear catching a fish. The claim is that apart from the copyright in the particular photographs, the choice of a bear to illustrate the laws of thermodynamics is itself sufficiently original.

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (0)

thomasw_lrd (1203850) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619763)

You know, until they bribe, err lobby Congress to make it illegal. Then they will have at least 102 legs to stand on.

Ironic (4, Interesting)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619835)

as long as the arrangement, structure and alignment is different

They seem to be claiming that the structure is copied though i.e. you select one of their texts and the site collects "open source" information which covers the same material in a similar fashion. What is so ironic about this is that, at least where 1st year physics text books are concerned, the publisher's text books have almost exactly identical structures - sometimes even down to the level of chapter and section numbers. So, since I am certain that these publishers would never do what they seem to be accusing this company of doing, I can only presume that they must all pay a licensing fee for use of this format.

Re:Ironic (1)

ArhcAngel (247594) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619871)

You sir have my sarcasm detector bamboozled...

Re:Boo hoo for the dinosaurs (1)

jd2112 (1535857) | more than 2 years ago | (#39620025)

Since you can't copyright facts and figures only their presentation and form, as long as the arrangement, structure and alignment is different, they don't have a leg to stand on.

Facts schmacts we have lawyers and a huge legal budget. - textbook publishers

Tom Lehrer said it best. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619421)

Plagiarize,
Let no one else’s work evade your eyes,
Remember why the good Lord made your eyes,
So don’t shade your eyes,
But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize
Only be sure always to call it please research.

No surprises here (1)

Elite Override (2602939) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619443)

Who didn't expect this to happen?

Re:No surprises here (1, Troll)

BSAtHome (455370) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619583)

It is just the start. I am really wondering when the publishers will start to sue the students/graduates for using the learned materials, alleging they are creating unauthorized derivatives.

Re:No surprises here (4, Insightful)

techoi (1435019) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619711)

Not so much sue, but license. You will have to pay a "knowledge usage" fee each time you utilize your learned knowledge for monetary gain. With the correct "lobbying" this fee will be captured on your tax form and levied based on the work you do (engineer, doctor, etc) coupled with the money you earned (salary) and the cost of the education you paid to "gain" your knowledge.

If you just happen to be smart and able to have meaningful and well-paying employment, without any identifiable higher education, then you probably just stole the information and skills from someone and will be open to punishment.

Re:No surprises here (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39620059)

They already do. If you've ever sat in a college English class the first thing they wave their finger in your face about is plagarism in an academic context and proclaim you guilty as charged if your paper even hints at using something other than common knowledge if left even partially uncited. You can even get sued if your published your work such as a dissertation. This is only because professors and text book companies hate your guts when you use stuff like wikipedia and other sources of making knowledge common. Which in the academic world is like using a GOTO statement in C, total blasphemy and a grand show of incompetance as far as they can see past their high noses which act as a sail when they go fishing. I wish these open text book guys good luck cause they'll need it against such whiney, nasty, rude, hypocrits like these academics and the corporations that support them.

The crux of the matter (5, Interesting)

ryzvonusef (1151717) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619451)

From the Article:

To illustrate this claim of intellectual theft, the publishers’ complaint points to the Boundless versions of several textbooks, including Biology, a textbook authored by Neil Campbell and Jane Reece. The Boundless alternative, the complaint alleges, is guilty of copying the printed material’s layout and engaging in what the complaint calls “photographic paraphrasing.” In one chapter of the printed book, for instance, the editors chose to illustrate the first and second laws of thermodynamics using pictures of a bear running and a bear catching a fish in its mouth. Boundless’s substitute text uses similar pictures to illustrate the same concepts—albeit Creative Commons-licensed images hosted on Wikipedia that include links to the source material, in accordance with the terms of the open license. (The end of each Boundless section also includes links to the text’s source material, which often includes Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia of Earth, and other Web sites.)

The complaint goes on to allege that Boundless’s choice of bear photographs in that chapter reflects “only the previously made creative, scholarly, and aesthetic judgments of the authors and editors of Campbell’s Biology.”

(Bolded by me)

So... is that wrong? I don't get it. If it's Creative Commons, doesn't that allow this sort of thing, by definition?

Re:The crux of the matter (2)

Dasuraga (1147871) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619589)

The problem seems more linked to the fact that they use the same model , even if they use different images. This could be considered the "analysis" part of the book, as referenced in other comments, which can be protected by copyright.

Re:The crux of the matter (1)

interval1066 (668936) | more than 2 years ago | (#39620023)

The problem is that technology is creeping up on the established publishers and they're nervous.

Re:The crux of the matter (4, Interesting)

Marc_Hawke (130338) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619597)

How similar were those pictures? I would have never thought to use a 'bear with a fish' to do thermal dynamics. That seems to be a 'non-obvious' solution. Someone else using that example would definitely be copying, even if they didn't use the exact same bear picture.

But how is the rest of the alignment done? Is is a manual process where and editor goes through and maps ever textbook they get a hold of? It is an automatic process based on the Table of Contents? (or index?)

It seems to me there are two important parts of making a text-book that would deserve copyright protection:

1. The narrative text/examples.
2. The 'flow'. The order by which the author chose to present the facts and lead you through the understanding.

Those are the two creative parts of the textbook. Those are what differentiate it from another 'book of facts.'

As much as I hate textbook cartels, I'd have to say that this 'alignment' process definitely has the potential to encroach on the actually creative side of textbook design, so I'd say the lawsuit has some merit. Of course, I haven't studied an 'aligned' book or the book from which it was derived. Heck, I didn't even RTFA.

Re:The crux of the matter (2)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619959)

But how is the rest of the alignment done? Is is a manual process where and editor goes through and maps ever textbook they get a hold of? It is an automatic process based on the Table of Contents? (or index?)

It seems to me there are two important parts of making a text-book that would deserve copyright protection:

1. The narrative text/examples.
2. The 'flow'. The order by which the author chose to present the facts and lead you through the understanding.

Those are the two creative parts of the textbook. Those are what differentiate it from another 'book of facts.'

As much as I hate textbook cartels, I'd have to say that this 'alignment' process definitely has the potential to encroach on the actually creative side of textbook design, so I'd say the lawsuit has some merit. Of course, I haven't studied an 'aligned' book or the book from which it was derived. Heck, I didn't even RTFA.

I think you are trying to define the word "curriculum".

For example, my kids district enforces that the teachers teach to the "connected mathematics" curriculum as seen in this wiki article. It is possible your local district also uses connected math, or perhaps it one of the numerous competitors. Personally I grew up in the IMP era across town in the same school district, but was able to self teach to a reasonably high level, so it turned out OK anyway.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connected_Mathematics [wikipedia.org]

To summarize your /. post, you are of the opinion that curriculums can be copyrighted. I'm not convinced. Its like trying to copyright the concept of "heavy metal" or copyright the concepts of "hip hop". One specific implementation, sure, OK, but general fads/trends in the field seem like an overly broad coverage.

Re:The crux of the matter (2)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619609)

From the Article:

To illustrate this claim of intellectual theft, the publishers’ complaint points to the Boundless versions of several textbooks, including Biology, a textbook authored by Neil Campbell and Jane Reece. The Boundless alternative, the complaint alleges, is guilty of copying the printed material’s layout and engaging in what the complaint calls “photographic paraphrasing.” In one chapter of the printed book, for instance, the editors chose to illustrate the first and second laws of thermodynamics using pictures of a bear running and a bear catching a fish in its mouth. Boundless’s substitute text uses similar pictures to illustrate the same concepts—albeit Creative Commons-licensed images hosted on Wikipedia that include links to the source material, in accordance with the terms of the open license. (The end of each Boundless section also includes links to the text’s source material, which often includes Wikipedia, the Encyclopedia of Earth, and other Web sites.)

The complaint goes on to allege that Boundless’s choice of bear photographs in that chapter reflects “only the previously made creative, scholarly, and aesthetic judgments of the authors and editors of Campbell’s Biology.”

(Bolded by me)

So... is that wrong? I don't get it. If it's Creative Commons, doesn't that allow this sort of thing, by definition?

IANAL but my understanding is that its not the bears in isolation, it the bears in the larger context. Its the overall look-and-feel of the page. Look-and-feel, perhaps not in this context though, has been successfully used in copyright/patent suits. Also I would guess that the use of bears strongly indicates that the look-and-feel being similar was not a coincidence, that it was intentional. Keep in mind that civil courts use a threshold of guilt far lower than criminal course where you have "innocent beyond a reasonable doubt". So even strongly suggesting the defendants were intentionally duplicating the look-and-feel may carry some weight.

Re:The crux of the matter (4, Interesting)

dougmc (70836) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619621)

From the Article:

So... is that wrong? I don't get it. If it's Creative Commons, doesn't that allow this sort of thing, by definition?

Well, yes, wikipedia certainly does allow that sort of thing. But the publishers of the textbooks that are sueing certainly don't.

Their claim is not that the picture itself is being infringed (and if it was, it would be for wikipedia to pursue the claim, but of course wikipedia permits that) but that the mere idea that a bear running illustrates the first law of thermodynamics is copyrightable and that's what is being infringed upon. An artistic choice was made by the author -- a running bear shows the first law of thermodynamics (I certainly don't see it, but whatever) and they think this is copyrightable.

As I see it, it's a weak case, but not so frivilous that it should just be thrown out without going to court. They're probably hoping that Boundless can't even defend themselves against this weak suit.

Re:The crux of the matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619629)

They are claiming that macrofeatures, such as using a bear to illustrate a certain thermodynamic principle, are being copied wholesale, and that this violates their copyright.

Re:The crux of the matter (1)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619653)

You misunderstand - the license of the content Boundless use is not at issue here, its the (for want of a better way of putting it) creation of a "derivative work" of a third parties textbook by using that content in the exact same manner as the third party does in its text.

Boundless are doing it on demand, and using the third party text as a reference for creating their own version - that is what the third party is taking issue with.

Re:The crux of the matter (0)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619777)

so, the boundless guys are *learning* on the fly and then reteaching it via instant textbooks?

a shakeup of the text and publishing cartels is overdue. I have a hard time feeling sympathy to such an industry. you've abused society (yes, you have) for centuries.

technology is making YOU irrelevant. many of us are feeling this in our lives, with our day jobs. no one feels sorry for us.

I don't feel sorry for the $100+ textbook makers, either! I just don't. (are textbooks still $100+ or are they now in the $200 and higher range? been a long time for me since college..)

Re:The crux of the matter (1)

SpeZek (970136) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619951)

Textbook prices depend on discipline. A biology book is $250 easily. Of course, the international edition is only $50.

Re:The crux of the matter (1)

NewWorldDan (899800) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619663)

Their point is that the arrangement of items that are public domain or otherwise free can still be protected by copyright. However, this is a very narrow protection. If Boundless is using their textbook to create a 'free' clone, it's quite possible that they're crossing the line of infringement. This is very much a gray area of copyright.

Re:The crux of the matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619687)

So why did you bold the irrelevant part? The creators of the photos aren't suing -- the creators of a commercial textbook are suing.

Basically, the claim of the publishers is that what happens is analogous to taking a book, and copy/pasting words from newspapers ransom-note-style to duplicate the text; even though each of those words came from somewhere else, by putting equivalent words in the same relative positions, you've created a derivative work. The NetBSD source comes with a license that pretty clearly permits me to copy-and-paste any and all statements in it together to create an entirely new platform -- but that doesn't mean I can look at microsoft's source, and create a Windows clone out of NetBSD source, and not get sued by MS.

Of course, Boundless says that all the copyrightable creative work is in the pictures themselves, not the arrangement of them, so it's not a derivative work. Perhaps they just say the selection and arrangement is not significant enough, perhaps they claim that the arrangement is utilitarian rather than creative, thus non-copyrightable (but potentially patentable, LOL) -- I haven't RTFA to see what grounds they're fighting it on. Actually, that last idea's kinda interesting -- a particularly liberal interpretation of utilitarian rejection could be used to reject all copyright on all instructional material!

Re:The crux of the matter (2)

Oswald (235719) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619713)

Seems like an honest question; I'll take a shot, giving my own interpretation of TFA:

In essence, the plaintiffs are saying that, due to the aforementioned creative, scholarly, and aesthetic judgments, their textbooks present a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Boundless is, in their view, reproducing (perhaps I should say "echoing") not just the freely available parts, but the copyrighted arrangement that represents (they claim) a significant part of the value of the books. Ergo, lawsuit.

Re:The crux of the matter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619749)

There can be copyright in a compilation. For example, if someone published "Selected Works of Shakespeare" there can be copyright in the selection. If I publish a book with exactly the same selection, I could have infringed that copyright even though the content itself is all public domain.

Re:The crux of the matter (1)

Neil_Brown (1568845) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619811)

So... is that wrong? I don't get it.

My view is that that is wrong. My take on it is this:

I'd read it as the publishers arguing that copyright protection covers more than the final words on the page — that, in terms of the overall expenditure of effort / cost in writing a text book, the "original" author puts effort into research, thinking and structure / layout, and that the cost of doing this should mean that someone should be prohibited from taking a fully-research and structured book, and replacing the paragraphs and images with one's own. The licensing of the images included in that "secondary" book does not come into it.

Perhaps in a more copyright-y manner, that the expression of ideas extends to more than just the words and images on the page, and must extend to cover (at least some) issues of structure and material selection.

(Just my reading of it, but hope it helps!)

Was it an African or European bear? (2)

drainbramage (588291) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619903)

To begin with, I needed basic kinematic data on African and European bear species.

Can you say "Desperation" (3, Interesting)

Penguinisto (415985) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619457)

It's bad enough that profs happily write textbooks and have a partner do a quid pro quo arrangement (each prof in a pair requires the other's pricey textbook in a given class to get around the rules forbidding you to require your own). It's worse that textbooks "change" from year-to-year (often with no substantial content changes at all) in order to keep a revenue stream coming in. It's worse still the practices used to hamper the used textbook markets...

Now students have to deal with crap like this?

Glad I left academia years ago. :(

Re:Can you say "Desperation" (0)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619693)

Yet another reason to remove professors from the equation. You should be able to communicate the knowledge of a course in written/recorded form (software/multimedia included). If you require a human body, you've failed.

Re:Can you say "Desperation" (1)

Desler (1608317) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619875)

Because you've never needed anyone to help explain things you don't necessarily understand the first time, have nver used someone as a feedback loop to make sure you aren't learning things wrong, or had any sort of mentor? Not everyone can perfectly learn things in isolation on their own from a text/audi alone.

Re:Can you say "Desperation" (2, Insightful)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619921)

Are you implying that only professors of a subject can serve this purpose?

Re:written/recorded form (4, Interesting)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619927)

I'll reply to you, because besides all the usual textbook games, you hinted at the *really nasty* copyright theme brewing - one so ugly the media has managed to distract us from even talking about it!

Entry Level Lectures in College/University.

Those are famously just "3d Videocasts" with Talking Heads writing things on White/Black boards. A "Class" consists of 25 "Episodes", plus the 1-3 course books, plus a "certification that you know the material". Price: Some $10,000.

If you can just get an alternative certification process down to validate people knowing their materials, then parts of the educational engine will crash, badly. I know, there's other parts of the "experience", but from the content side, Big-Ed has a really wrenching shakedown coming, maybe in five-seven years.

Re:written/recorded form (2)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619979)

This. This. This.

See what Khan Academy and CK-12.org are doing to K-12 teaching materials? K-12? HAH. College courses are next. The last nails in the coffin is an open certification body where you can go for testing without getting gouged, and an open marketplace for tutors/subject matter experts to work with you online.

Re:Can you say "Desperation" (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 2 years ago | (#39620051)

If you require a human body, you've failed.

So how do you manage without yours? ;-) Books, multimedia etc. can certainly go along way but you need someone to challenge your understanding, until we have AI computers, that requires a human to interpret what a student says and point out the flaws in their reasoning.

Re:Can you say "Desperation" (1)

lahvak (69490) | more than 2 years ago | (#39620063)

If the classes you are taking in college are at such a low level that you do not actually need a professor teaching them, you did not study hard enough at high school.

Re:Can you say "Desperation" (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619751)

It's bad enough that profs happily write textbooks and have a partner do a quid pro quo arrangement (each prof in a pair requires the other's pricey textbook in a given class to get around the rules forbidding you to require your own).

I'm not going to say that the quid pro quo arrangement doesn't occur, and I agree whole-heartedly that there is lots wrong with the textbook industry, but

a) I taught at various college and universities for 15 years and I am not aware of a single instance of this occurring,
b) You imply that this is the norm, but the majority of profs have never written a textbook.

Re:Can you say "Desperation" (4, Interesting)

lahvak (69490) | more than 2 years ago | (#39620039)

I have fairly extensive experience with academia, and I have never seen a school that would have a rule prohibiting professors using their own books. I have also never seen professors having an agreement like the one you talk about. When I was an undergraduate student, about half my professors required their own textbooks, that were mostly available at the university store for a nominal price as mimeographed copies.

As far as publishers coming up with a bogus "new" edition of a textbook every few years, I can assure you that professors hate that practice as much as students do.

Translation (4, Interesting)

currently_awake (1248758) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619465)

From the article: Those "Thieves" just copied our work, reworded stuff so it's not a direct copy, and now give it away! The question is how much do you have to re-word factual content in order to not be copyright infringement. There is a limit to how far they can differ and still cover the same (factual) material.

Re:Translation (2)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619565)

From what I can tell they are using stuff that's already in the public domain. I really don't see how there's a legitimate complaint here. I mean if they are using the layout of copyrighted works, as in paragraph 3 and 8 have the same meaning in both works, maybe, but it doesn't look that way.

Re:Translation (1)

David Chappell (671429) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619645)

From the article: Those "Thieves" just copied our work, reworded stuff so it's not a direct copy, and now give it away! The question is how much do you have to re-word factual content in order to not be copyright infringement. There is a limit to how far they can differ and still cover the same (factual) material.

The party which has brought this suit have described the upstart's product as a paraphrased version of their product. A paraphrase is a sentence-by-sentence rewording. If it is copyright violation to publish an unauthorized translation into another language and publish the translation, surely it is also a copyright violation to publish a paraphrase. But, we don't have enough information to say whether this is really what was done.

There are ways to produce a replacement text without paraphrasing. For example, one could have someone read the text and produce an outline. One would then give the outline to a writer (who had never read the original book) and tell him to flesh it out into a textbook. It is likely that one could give the writer an outline with a high level of detail without risking copyright infringement.

Educational use (2)

Coreigh (185150) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619469)

I thought educational use was exempt from copyright restrictions.

Re:Educational use (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619551)

One mistake of not using the correct citation in a paper that one you and your professor will read, you are kicked out of college in disgrace, for being the lowest form of life "a plagiarizer". You could murder someone but be able to finish you schooling. But if you didn't site your sources correctly you are banished from academia for ever!

Re:Educational use (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619617)

cite, not site

Re:Educational use (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619625)

One mistake of not using the correct citation in a paper that (incomprehensible) one you and your professor will read, you are kicked out of college in disgrace, for being the lowest form of life, a plagiarizer (remove quotes). You could murder someone but be able to finish your schooling. But if you didn't cite your sources correctly, you are banished from academia for ever!

Well, fixed a bit for you there. :)

Re:Educational use (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619651)

I thought educational use was exempt from copyright restrictions.

I think such exemptions are with respect to brief excerpts.

Re:Educational use (1)

dougmc (70836) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619669)

I thought educational use was exempt from copyright restrictions.

You thought wrong.

Educational uses are certainly one of the things that often falls under fair use [nolo.com] but there's limits. For example, a teacher can probably legally copy an article to discuss it in class, but you can't photocopy an entire book legally.

If the use is educational, that can make the case for the use being fair use stronger -- but it's only part of the equation.

Re:Educational use (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619727)

I'm about 90% sure he was joking.

Re:Educational use (1)

David Chappell (671429) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619905)

I thought educational use was exempt from copyright restrictions.

You are thinking of the concept of fair use. Such uses are called fair because they do not unreasonably encroach on the right of the author to exploit his work commercially. The principle of fair uses recognizes that we sometimes have to make copies in order to study the work, comment on it, and show it to others. But, this principle does not permit us to try to take over the function of the publisher. Copying entire textbooks and distributing them to students (who will be studying the subjects expounded in the textbooks) would be taking over the function of the publisher.

However, photocopying a few pages from a textbook and passing them out in a technical writing class so that students could examine a good (or bad) example would be fair use. It would probably also be fair use to copy an article from a newspaper and pass it out in class in order to aid in a discussion of politics or current events. This is what people mean when they say that copying for educational purposes is allowed.

What would happen if access to knowledge was free? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619497)

Buggy whip manufacturers.... bye bye

array of sources ... just as good ? (3, Insightful)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619511)

... pulls content from an array of open-education sources to knit together a text that the company claims is as good as the designated book ...

A noble intention but I am suspicious of "as good as". Pulling stuff from various sources and slapping it together quickly is not a strategy known for producing "as good as" products. Perhaps a "good enough" product though.

However is the "knitted together" text better than, or even different from, just googling and reading some of the top sites, reading various topics on wikipedia?

Also with respect to "as good as" I am *not* counting the missing homework problems against it.

Re:array of sources ... just as good ? (1)

David Chappell (671429) | more than 2 years ago | (#39620001)

However is the "knitted together" text better than, or even different from, just googling and reading some of the top sites, reading various topics on wikipedia?

The difference is that this upstart publisher claims to do the googling for you and to organize the results. It would be difficult to do it yourself since you would have to first borrow the book from a classmate and create an outline so that you would know which topics will be discussed in class and in what order.

Re:array of sources ... just as good ? (1)

RazorSharp (1418697) | more than 2 years ago | (#39620017)

They're probably better. Modern U.S. textbooks are terrible.

Look at modern math books, for example. They're ridiculously large and most the pages are filled exercises. Most of the exercises are painfully easy, then there are some difficult ones, and then a couple of real tough ones. Then other portions are dedicated to stupid little "Did You Know?" boxes that explain something that's pretty irrelevant to the subject at hand. Then you have several diagrams which all do a poor job of explaining the same concept in different ways.

Look at most European math books. A fraction of the size, an emphasis on formulae and theory, and fewer but more difficult exercises. I haven't seen any east Asian textbooks but I'd be willing to bet they follow a similar model.

Considering that these countries tend to do much better than the U.S. academically, especially in math and hard science, it would make sense to copy their methods. The only problem with that is the hundreds of pages of diagrams and fluff exercises cost more - they require more employees, more paper, more ink, and most importantly a higher price tag. More revenue, more profit.

In America there is a new name for God - it's The Market. We worship The Market, we are grateful for what The Market gives but do not demand any more, and we dare not try to control The Market for there is no greater blasphemy. Attempting to undercut the market with free products - whether it be software or a textbook or community service - that's the worship of the evil false idol: socialism.

Re:array of sources ... just as good ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39620055)

You'd be correct if we weren't talking about education textbooks which are some of the most horribly edited, factual incorrect farse's ever to be published. Take a look at a math textbook of recent vintage. More words than numbers and none of it makes any sense or seem to have any logical structure or flow to the cirriculum. Given that, I'd imagine "knitting together" a bunch of wiki articles to more than likely "better than"... :-)

Losers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619519)

The publishers are Pearson, Cengage Learning, and Macmillan Higher Education.

I'm glad they explained that they are publishers.
I always thought of them as failed investment bankers.

next industry to be affected by the internet (4, Interesting)

n4djs (1097963) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619535)

how long is it going to be before the state and local governments figure out that commissioning a single book that they own the rights to as a group starts becoming more cost effective? Would it not make sense that there isn't anything particularly new in geometry or algebra that forces the need for a new rewrite of textbooks every 2-3 years? Or to avoid the $100/book charges being made for dead tree editions of textbooks? Would it not make sense to have one definitive book on the subject, and holding the copyright in common for all to use? As the cost continues to rise at rates exceeding inflation on textbook materials, it becomes more and more attractive to own your own curriculum materials so you don't continue to pay for them over and over again. I feel it is just a matter of time before this happens, particularly give the finanical squeeze occuring in state and local governments.

Re:next industry to be affected by the internet (1)

n4djs (1097963) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619547)

and of course, this assumes that there is no underlying graft going on between the textbook companies and the administrators specifying the books...

Re:next industry to be affected by the internet (1)

Loughla (2531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619761)

and of course, this assumes that there is no underlying graft going on between the textbook companies and the state representatives, parent groups, school boards, teachers (rarely), lobbyists, and other assorted meddling government employees and members of the public depending on what state you live in specifying the books. . .

FTFY

Re:next industry to be affected by the internet (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619731)

Would it not make sense that there isn't anything particularly new in geometry or algebra that forces the need for a new rewrite of textbooks every 2-3 years?

Teaching fads rotate on an interval a little longer than the reign of a typical mid-level district administrator, for obvious reasons.

What sounds easier for a "typical seagull manager"... Select a new set of textbooks, or author/oversee/demand a customized by them new curriculum?

What sounds less dangerous for a typical risk adverse mid-level district administrator, buy an entire book from a multinational corporation, or personally sign off on a new homemade curriculum? The danger is page 142 paragraph 2 line 3 might be seen as inappropriately non-multicultural, and its much safer to blame some new york text book publisher than to blame the admin who signed off on it herself.

Also whats less difficult for the high level district administrators, hire a staffmember who literally wrote the book on trigonometry or hire a staff member who just rubber stamps purchase orders from textbook publishers...

The REAL mystery is why startups are publishing these books. An established budget reprinter like Dover or a book on demand provider like lulu should be doing this "free textbook" publishing stuff. Finally, if the textbook truly is free, and I really want a paper copy, Dover or lulu is probably cheaper and much more stylish than burning my laserprinter up and stapling the printouts. Even my local printshop/photocopier place used to sell formal class notes from professors at just above the cost of copying, nicely bound, etc. So why is it all "startup startup startup"? There seem to be missing players...

Re:next industry to be affected by the internet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39620047)

California is already doing this:

http://opensourcetext.org/ [opensourcetext.org]

Hah. (1)

JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619567)

citing 'copyright infringement,' as the company is making similar textbooks using open material.

You're textbook has 1+1=2 in it?
Ours had it first, so we're going to sue you now.

your, you're, there, their, they're (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619801)

there should be a mod down "your, you're, there, their, they're mistake"

Re:your, you're, there, their, they're (4)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619993)

Anonymous Coward wrote:

there should be a mod down "your, you're, there, their, they're mistake"

I disagree. Grammar prescriptivism should go in an English textbook, not in Slashdot's moderation system. Some people who post to Slashdot speak something other than English as a first language.

Re:Hah. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39620019)

citing 'copyright infringement,' as the company is making similar textbooks using open material.

You're textbook has 1+1=2 in it?
Ours had it first, so we're going to sue you now.

I'll just leave this here: https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/English_Grammar [wikibooks.org] . It's free!

Some open materials based on proprietary sources (4, Insightful)

concealment (2447304) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619571)

I don't know whether this lawsuit will succeed or fail, but many open source and open materials are based on proprietary materials.

For example, much of Wikipedia is graduate students and college students taking ideas from their textbooks, compiling them and putting them into their own words.

Linux is based on a commercial operating system, and many of its best software packages are either clones of popular Windows software packages, or enhancements to academic projects (like Apache and Mozilla).

The two need each other it seems.

The point of that is that it makes sense for us to keep a profit motive for development of new proprietary materials, and over time, to migrate older knowledge to the realm of free and open learning.

Re:Some open materials based on proprietary source (1)

Loughla (2531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619809)

That's called common sense and compromise. I'LL HAVE NONE OF THAT, THANK YOU. It's either everything or nothing, just like every other aspect of life, right? Remember that most choices you make are absolutes in black and white, and never shades of gray. Right?

Re:Some open materials based on proprietary source (2)

joelsherrill (132624) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619983)

As the SCO history has demonstrated, the Linux kernel is not based on a commercial operating system. It is a implementation of a POSIX style operating system with a clean source history. POSIX itself is an open standard. The user space is a mix of many packages some based on POSIX standards (e.g. shell, file utils) others based on common application needs. Many of those are indeed based upon open industry standards. Wikipedia material is not as well vetted IMHO and given the volume of material, there is a greater possibility of something being copied incorrectly. But much of the material we are discussing is basic scientific fact and could reasonably be based heavily on material available via sources like Project Gutenberg. Other material would be newer and likely could reference open sources. As for organization, the courses follow standard outlines so university programs can receive accreditation. And building up material from basic to advanced concepts in a framework that could only allow 8-16 chapters per semester doesn't allow that much variation.

Complaint is BS (3, Interesting)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619595)

The companies are complaining not because the textbook is actually copying them (which would be a violation of copyright), but because the free texbooks are copying their ideas. The example TFA gives is that the copyrighted textbook uses a picture of a bear to illustrate the laws of thermodynamics, and the open-source version uses another different but similar picture of a bear (properly licensed under a CC license).

Basically, the companies are claiming they hold the copyright to the idea of using a bear to illustrate a law of thermodynamics. I call that "bullshit." They don't have a leg to stand on under copyright law, IMO (well, they shouldn't, IANAL so I cannot say for certain). Ideas can, infact, be freely copied: you cannot copyright them, and you never could.

Now, if they'd patented that idea, it'd still be bullshit, but maybe they'd have had a case legally speaking.

Re:Complaint is BS (2)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619861)

The companies are complaining not because the textbook is actually copying them (which would be a violation of copyright), but because the free texbooks are copying their ideas. The example TFA gives is that the copyrighted textbook uses a picture of a bear to illustrate the laws of thermodynamics, and the open-source version uses another different but similar picture of a bear (properly licensed under a CC license).

Basically, the companies are claiming they hold the copyright to the idea of using a bear to illustrate a law of thermodynamics. I call that "bullshit." They don't have a leg to stand on under copyright law, IMO (well, they shouldn't, IANAL so I cannot say for certain). Ideas can, infact, be freely copied: you cannot copyright them, and you never could.

Now, if they'd patented that idea, it'd still be bullshit, but maybe they'd have had a case legally speaking.

No, they're suing because the company used their layout, decisions on what to use to illustrate concepts, et

Re:Complaint is BS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619961)

No, no, I'm sure they're fine.

By the way, I have this idea for a superhero from Kraptoon. Our yellow sun gives him superpowers (Kraptoon has a blue sun). His secret identity is mild-mannered reporter Carl Clemmens. His arch nemesis is Lucius Larant. His love interest is Rita Roadway. He wears a yellow cape and a red suit with a blue and yellow "S" on the front. The S stands for Sensational. He is Sensational Man. He can fly and shoot heat rays out of his eyes. He's impervious to (and faster than) streaking bullets.

Eeek!... (1)

gatfirls (1315141) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619607)

...a market competitor! Kill it George!

The double edged sword of litigation. (1)

AtomicAdam (959649) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619615)

I had not heard about boundless before. Thanks to this litigation, I can now sign up. This is fantastic. But seriously, a math book has questions that the teacher assigns. That is the only reason I paid $280 for my used Calc book. I use the web to actually learn the stuff.

Thanks, guys! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619691)

You helped me greatly in knowing who to ignore when it comes to any sort of information, regardless of the content in question.
These 3 companies can join the list of "Dead To Me" that seems to be accelerating in growth each year.

Notice how these types always go after the ones "nobody knows about", rather than the ones that already exist and have a following.
Absolute cowardice of the worst kind. It is like picking on a baby because it was just born.
Who wants to bully those at their own age? Old and busted. Bullying the young'ins is the new hotness.

I hope they get help from a large group. Surely he EFF would step in? This covers their mission I'm sure.

Prior Art (2)

shameless (100182) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619701)

What's funny is that this sort of "alignment" has been taking place for *years* in dead-tree textbooks.

An example: Back in the 80s I was taking a class in differential equations and was having some trouble. So I went down to the library to see if different textbooks might have different approaches that could help me out. I pulled down four textbooks (different authors) and sat down to read. Turns out EVERY SINGLE ONE of them presented exactly the same concepts in exactly the same order with pretty much the same descriptions. Didn't help me one bit, but it shows how a math professor can make a few extra bucks for very little effort... #include

Not that I don't hate the textbook companies... (2)

slimjim8094 (941042) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619709)

I'm a college student. I hate that my textbooks are hundreds of dollars, and would love open textbooks.

But it seems like the companies arguing that the stuff in the book, in the order it's in, is copyrighted - which seems reasonable to me. If true, it doesn't matter if you use libre text and images - you're still "filling in" the template provided by the textbook. It's similar to a song cover - you're reproducing "your" version of the song, but it's still copyright of the original artist.

They do actually pay people to come up with the best stuff to include, and the order in which to present it...

Seriously? (4, Interesting)

Murdoch5 (1563847) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619737)

Basically the lawsuit is because the text books company's don't want to lose massive amounts of profit. Textbooks are the biggest profit business in the worlds, for instance almost every year a new calculus and physic book gets published and for what reason?

wikipedia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619867)

Perhaps this just shows how useless textbooks are today. A bear to illustrate thermodynamics?
Just have the students read the Wikipedia page.
If they find something they don't understand, that's what the teacher is there for, right?

The long and the short of it is: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39619907)

The long and the short of it is: if they didn't copy your stuff, then you can't sue. FULL STOP! Kinda close and kinda similar is what *all* the text books look like, because topics taught to the lower grades haven't changed in a long time. Only when you get to high school does it begin to really matter. You can change it up to keep it topical, but the material hasn't differed in a long time. The differences between the open book and their proprietary books are about the same as the differences between two proprietary books (and they haven't gone out and started to sue each other). This is all about money, and dying business models.

Hmm... (1)

EchoRomeo (2582713) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619911)

1+1=2 is now copyrighted?

ZERO sympathy (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 2 years ago | (#39619919)

Hundreds for text books that sometimes professors don't even assign for your coursework. Plus, I have to lug around these heavy-assed things when an electronic version would be SO much more convenient. Add to that classes like Calculus and Physics that aren't really changing much fundamentally, yet still manage to mandate new textbooks every few years so that you can't even get by w/ used texts.

Fair Use? (1)

HealthWyze (2613933) | more than 2 years ago | (#39620007)

I believe that fair use provisions of copyright law include works deemed in the public interest and/or educational works.
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