Boundless Settles Copyright Lawsuit From Textbook Publishers

12/18/13Follow @curtwoodward

Online education startup Boundless has settled a copyright lawsuit from three major college textbook publishers, moving the young company past a turbulent period that saw business growth, but also the departure of two of its three co-founders.

A settlement had been in the works for some time, as we reported this summer.

The lawsuit was initially filed in early 2012 by Pearson Education, Cengage Learning, and Macmillan Higher Education. Those companies said Boundless cribbed too closely from their college textbooks in crafting its free, online alternatives, crossing the line into copyright infringement.

Boundless denied the claims, and also pointed out that the lawsuit was based on a test version of its product that was later abandoned in favor of digital textbooks based on freely available online education resources.

The terms of the settlement are confidential, so we don’t know if any money changed hands—Boston-based Boundless is tiny compared to the textbook publishers, having raised less than $10 million in venture backing so far.

In a blog post, Boundless CEO and co-founder Ariel Diaz noted that his company has continued adding to its product offerings and growing its user base as the case progressed, doubling its employee base to nearly 20 and expanding to reach about 3 million students and educators.

“The transition to a digital educational content foundation has been slowed by a conservative industry, a search for new business models, and a lack of great products. Thankfully, we’re finally on the verge of solving this,” Diaz wrote.

In a joint statement, the publishers indicated that they would remain on the lookout for upstarts that mirror their own products too closely. “We will continue to safeguard the rights of our authors and take action against the misappropriation of our content by any and all parties,” wrote James McCusker, a Cengage spokesman.

Boundless is one of several ongoing attempts to remake the often hidebound world of higher education by using digital tools. Some of the more high-profile efforts include online courses, such as the Khan Academy or Harvard- and MIT-backed edX.

As Diaz indicated, a lot has happened at Boundless since the lawsuit was filed in early 2012. The startup now offers free, basic online textbooks alongside $20 versions that include study aids and chapters that are customized to reflect the pace and structure of a class’ assigned textbooks.

Boundless also recently began marketing itself to teachers, offering online learning software that can help instructors assign and track student work while serving as a way to get more students to use Boundless’s own texts.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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