Free-Textbook Company Rewrites Its Content Following Publishers’ Lawsuit

A free-textbook company that was sued last year by three major textbook publishers has now rewritten the content it was accused of stealing.

Pearson, Cengage Learning, and Macmillan Higher Education filed a joint complaint in March 2012 against the company, known as Boundless. The publishers asserted that the way Boundless creates its textbooks violates their copyrights. In a process called “alignment,” students select the traditional text they need, and Boundless pulls together open content to create free versions of the books.

The publishers say the resulting products too closely mirror the original texts, specifically the way the new books are organized. Matt Oppenheim, a lawyer representing the publishers, said Boundless was simply stealing the substance of his clients’ textbooks.

“They were stripping out the entirety of a book’s structure and organization, topic by topic, subtopic by subtopic, and using it to create a skeleton that they then told the world was a version of a publisher’s book,” he said.

The lawsuit, he said, would continue.

Ariel Diaz, chief executive of Boundless, said the rewritten versions were just part of a continuing process of improving the company’s products, and were not a response to the lawsuit. The company stands by the original versions of its textbooks and its defense, he said.

“You can’t copyright facts and ideas,” Mr. Diaz said, noting that the vast majority of information in introductory textbooks on the same subject is going to be similar. The company has now filed a counterclaim asking a judge to declare that the new products “do not violate any rights in copyright” owned by the publishers.

Mr. Diaz said Boundless was making clear that the publishers’ lawsuit is now moot because the products cited are no longer available.

“The entire lawsuit was based on something that was in beta and now doesn’t even exist,” he said.

Mr. Oppenheim, the publishers’ lawyer, said the lawsuit was based on what Boundless was doing at the time and the new textbooks don’t change that.

“You don’t litigate against a moving target,” he said. “You can’t. No case would ever end.”

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