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Friday, 13 April 2012

Boundless flattery of leading textbooks

James Robertson of Marks & Clerk has written to the IPKat about an interesting copyright case in the US textbook publishing industry. James writes:
Mr Tibbs liked his textbooks to be
hardcover, his glasses to be big, and
his study-break snack to come squeaking to
him straight from the cages in the biology lab.

Boundless learning Inc (www.boundless.com) are being sued by a number of publishers for copyright infringement of their text books. One of the issues here is not just that there is an allegation of copyright infringement, but rather that Boundless themselves are attracting substantial investment (see their website) and so are clearly presenting a threat to existing publishers. Of itself, competition is nothing to complain about. However, if it relies on copyright infringement then that's something else altogether.

Boundless say on their website:
"Tired of spending thousands on college only to be forced to use educational products that you don't like?
"It’s time for a change. Boundless is built directly for students like you, tailored to each of your courses so that you can ditch the expensive textbook, master the essentials and boost your grade."
That might sound like a bit of marketing hyperbole, and the website has changed since the lawsuit issued (pages deleted etc.; no longer available on Google cache), but the allegation is that (para 4 of the lawsuit):
"Defendant distributes “replacement textbooks” that are created from, based upon, and overwhelmingly similar to Plaintiffs’ textbooks. Defendant generates these “replacement textbooks” by hiring individuals to copy and paraphrase from Plaintiffs’ textbooks. Defendant boasts that they copy the precise selection, structure, organization and depth of coverage of Plaintiffs’ textbooks and then map-in substitute text, right down to duplicating Plaintiffs’ pagination."
Para 6 of the lawsuit sums it up nicely:
"Notwithstanding its spin about being on the cutting edge, Boundless gets an “F” in originality for deliberately copying the creative, scholarly and aesthetic expression of Plaintiffs and their authors."
Paras 36-48 go into details of the alleged infringing acts, and are a good read. The lawsuit is linked here (pdf). Should be interesting to see how this one progresses.

The IPKat always tries to beat the second law
of thermodynamics by basking in the sun
after a meal and keeping entropy to a minimum
The IPKat agrees that the details of the alleged infringements are a good read. Here's just one. Leading college biology text, Campbell's Biology, used a photo of a bear eating a fish to illustrate the first law of thermodynamics (no need for Wikipedia, gentle readers: it's the law that basically states the law of conservation of energy). To illustrate the second law (in a closed system, entropy increases), Campbell used a photo of a bear running, presumably to indicate that the highly ordered energy of the fish eventually gets pounded out as disordered noise and heat.

Out of the "universe of possible choices" of pictures to illustrate the laws of thermodynamics, Boundless chose the very same subject matter involving a bear, a fish and a lot of pointless running about.

"Cranky, overweight, and nap-prone, Johannes
Brahms exhibited common symptoms of sleep apnea."
Not our words but those of the leading textbook.
Similarly, "sleep apnea" (or apnoea, for the classically trained) is illustrated in Myers’ Psychology with a picture of composer Brahms and a rather unflattering caption (shown right). In its parallel psychology textbook, Boundless also chose a picture of the same composer and mentioned his apnea and his overweight condition.


The IPKat has his own opinion on whether the courts in this part of the world would draw the line between mere idea and protectable expression in such cases, but as always is interested in the views of his readers.

And finally, thanks to James for summarising the case so succinctly.

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