In lawsuit with publishers, open textbook startup Boundless hits back

In its ongoing lawsuit with three of the biggest textbook publishers, open textbook startup Boundless is down, but by no means is it out.

Last spring, the Boston-based startup said it had raised $8 million in venture funding just as Pearson (s PLC), Cengage and Macmillan Higher Education slapped it with a lawsuit alleging several violations, including copyright infringement, unfair competition and false advertising. Boundless curates and packages free online content into open textbook alternatives tailored to students’ learning needs.

In June, the startup filed a motion to dismiss a few of the claims and said the other claims were without merit. But last month, a U.S. District Court Judge in New York denied the motion to dismiss.

Undeterred, Boundless this week filed another response, requesting a trial by jury.

“In our view, such legal action [by the publishers] is an attempt to stifle startups such as Boundless who are driving innovation and using the power of the Internet to help students save money and become better learners,” Boundless CEO and founder Ariel Diaz said in a statement.

Pearson, Cengage and Macmillan Higher Education did not immediately reply to requests for comment. But in their complaint, the publishers allege that Boundless “steals the creative expression of others, willfully and blatantly violating Plaintiffs’ intellectual property rights in several of their highest profile signature textbooks.” Specifically, they say that Boundless copies “the distinctive selection, arrangement and presentation of Plaintiffs’ textbooks, along with other original text, imagery and protected expression.”

In its defense, Boundless argues that the allegations are “overly broad and legally flawed” and that the similarities between the publishers’ textbooks and their online content are the result of covering the same facts and concepts in an order necessitated by the subject matter.

Despite the legal battle, the startup has pushed on, adding more content, organizing content hackathons and releasing its content under Creative Commons. Boundless currently offers content for 18 subjects and claims that students at half of the colleges in the country use its content.

Momentum behind open educational resources is growing – California and British Columbia have backed open textbook initiatives, for example.  And as awareness and the amount of low-cost or free open educational resources grows, services, like Boundless, could help professors, students and others sift through, curate and organize it. CK-12, a non-profit that curates high quality STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) content, takes another approach to aggregating and distributing open educational content. But this ongoing legal battle highlights how disruptive this movement could be to the textbook industry.