Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 7th Apr 2012 17:52 UTC
Legal Rage-inducing and despicable. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reports, three major textbook publishers, Pearson, Cengage Learning, and Macmillan Higher Education, are suing a small startup company that produces open and free alternative textbooks. This startup, Boundless Learning, builds textbooks using creative commons licensed and otherwise freely available material - and this poses a threat to the three large textbook publishers. So, what do you do when you feel threatened? Well, file a copyright infringement lawsuit, of course.
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An analogy
by nickmain on Sat 7th Apr 2012 19:01 UTC
nickmain
Member since:
2012-04-07

Imagine I wrote a program that parses the source code of a large proprietary C++ codebase and then uses the AST to produce a new codebase in Java - adjusting for the semantic differences between the two languages and changing all the class and variable names.

No actual text from the original codebase has been copied but the algorithms and design have been.

Does this constitute copyright infringement ?

Not stating an opinion either way - just a useful thought experiment.

Reply Score: 2

RE: An analogy
by Thom_Holwerda on Sat 7th Apr 2012 19:09 in reply to "An analogy"
Thom_Holwerda Member since:
2005-06-29

Except... That's not a correct analogy, since that looks more like a translation than what Boundless is doing.

Boundless is taking existing, original material covered by permissive licenses (e.g. from Wikipedia) to match the material in official, assigned books. The information in the official books is public knowledge - it's how the world works. You can't copyright the laws of thermodynamics. The way the original books are written is copyrighted - but the public sources Boundless draws from are worded entirely differently. However, when you explain the first law of thermodynamics, you only have so many ways of doing so.

Reply Parent Score: 4

RE[2]: An analogy
by Nelson on Sat 7th Apr 2012 19:21 in reply to "RE: An analogy"
Nelson Member since:
2005-11-29

Writing style, organization, visual design. All of that is unique to the material which they shadow copied (This much, they admit).

How then, given that it is more than general educational facts, does what they do not constitute infringement? Their book isn't just a bullet list of facts, there is a very deliberate style which is unique.

They are surely reducing the revenue of the big publishers, only because they are able to essentially create very similar knock offs of the book.

I think the anti-patent, anti-copyright fever here has turned into almost hysteria. If you keep raising a stink about non-issues like this, you risk drowning out the real legitimate issues out there surrounding patents and other things.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: An analogy
by Drumhellar on Sat 7th Apr 2012 19:35 in reply to "RE: An analogy"
Drumhellar Member since:
2005-07-12

While merely wording things differently isn't enough to evade copyright violation, at least with fictional works, it is enough when discussing facts of the world.

However, if the original text uses a bear to describe thermodynamics (as the source cites), then, perhaps a fish farm to describe communicable disease, corn crops for genetic engineering, webbed feet on dogs for selective breeding, etc etc, then Boundless Learning produces a text using the same examples as in the original source (but uses freely available sources), presents them in the same order, with the expressed intent of replacing the original source, there most definitely is a case for a suit.

This does appear to be more than just "It's free? SHUT IT DOWN!!!" but not much more.

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[2]: An analogy
by dynamic1 on Sun 8th Apr 2012 20:44 in reply to "RE: An analogy"
dynamic1 Member since:
2012-04-08

Actually, the analogy is quite good, because copyright law covers things like organisation and selection, not just whether you copy verbatim text, so Boundless is in the wrong here. You can check copyright case law to confirm.

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE: An analogy
by dragossh on Sun 8th Apr 2012 13:12 in reply to "An analogy"
dragossh Member since:
2008-12-16

Imagine I wrote a program that parses the source code of a large proprietary C++ codebase and then uses the AST to produce a new codebase in Java - adjusting for the semantic differences between the two languages and changing all the class and variable names.

Imagine I wrote a program that does this. Now imagine you wrote a program that does this too, but without any access to my code. This is pretty much what Boundless is doing.

It looks like nowadays you're not supposed to try competing with the established guys. Amazing.

Reply Parent Score: 4

RE: An analogy
by kwan_e on Mon 9th Apr 2012 04:41 in reply to "An analogy"
kwan_e Member since:
2007-02-18

Imagine I wrote a program that parses the source code of a large proprietary C++ codebase and then uses the AST to produce a new codebase in Java - adjusting for the semantic differences between the two languages and changing all the class and variable names.

No actual text from the original codebase has been copied but the algorithms and design have been.

Does this constitute copyright infringement ?

Not stating an opinion either way - just a useful thought experiment.


Licences like GPL provisions for reverse engineering, which is what this thought experiment is, but not what this open source textbook is about at all. You can't reverse engineer books, especially not in an automated way. For your thought experiment to have any bearing on this situation, you have to prove the open source textbook was done in an analogous way.

Also, what about previous textbooks that the current commercial books obviously pattern themselves after? Or what about curriculum standards that enforce how topics are taught and thus have effect on the layout any textbook has?

Reply Parent Score: 1