Technology is bringing a lot of changes to classrooms as schools adopt iPads and computers and are replacing textbooks with electronic books. Boundless is an ed-tech startup that was launched to provide free and online alternatives to expensive college textbooks, and in March 2012 the company was sued by three major textbook publishers –Pearson Education, Cengage Learning and Macmillan Higher Education– for a violation of the Copyright Act.
In May 2012, the companies entered into a mediation phase, and they reached a settlement, which will set a precedent for digital publishing and serve as a warning to new education technology start-ups. Boundless Founder and Chief Executive Officer Ariel Diaz said that the company's operational plan will not be affected by the settlement. Boundless can still provide learning materials across all subjects, including biology, physics and economics, writes Christina Farr of Venture Beat.
According to Diaz, there will be no more trouble for Boundless. Diaz noted that the beta product, which offered students a free digital alternative to bulky textbooks, was the primary target of the lawsuit.
Diaz said that the company has changed since then to include study tools and a "proprietary process for publishing our textbooks." The company mostly gets its educational content from Open Educational Resources and its team of experts.
"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," Diaz said in March, shortly after being served with the copyright violation suit.
Boundless said it will offer a complementary service to textbooks, which students can read "in addition to or instead of their assigned books for $19.99." The ed-tech company is also offering a variety of free textbooks on its website and points to other third-party websites. Educators are allowed to adopt and customize these textbooks.
Diaz said, in a blog post, that the lawsuit hasn't limited Boundless' growth.t he company has doubled its team, improved and increased its content, and expanded its base of students to more than three million.
In a press release, publishers hinted that they won't hold back in the future against upstarts like Boundless. "We will continue to safeguard the rights of our authors and take action against the misappropriation of our content by any and all parties," said James McCusker, a Cengage spokesman.
The companies did not disclose the terms of the settlement. The official statement from the settlement agreement states that the dispute was resolved by the parties, and this resolution allows them to move forward and focus on their mutually shared goal of helping students learn.
Boundless now has a clear path for building and marketing its OER-driven textbook alternatives without treading upon the plaintiffs' rights, and it is confident that it is in compliance and will not have further legal issues with the plaintiff publishers.