A licensing agreement between the publisher Cengage Learning and the e-textbook vendor Kno has gone sour. Details recently surfaced of a legal battle between the two companies over the publisher’s effort to terminate a contract to digitize its printed textbooks. Cengage accused Kno of copyright infringement, and now the start-up is suing the publisher for damages and the right to continue selling its partner’s e-textbooks.
In early January, Kno sued Cengage for trying to terminate its agreement to let Kno digitize and sell the publisher’s textbooks. News of the lawsuit was first reported last week by the social-networking news site Mashable. The case highlights potential problems that could arise as publishers work with third parties to create interactive textbooks.
The conflict began last August, when Kno introduced new features to its e-reader platform. One of those tools, Journal, lets readers take notes and make excerpts for later reference in the software. The next month, Cengage claimed the added note-taking feature enabled copyright infringement “through the creation of a derivative work,” according to the complaint.
The publisher gave its partner 30 days to resolve the issue, and Kno says that it removed Cengage’s e-textbooks from its catalog while it was working on a solution. Despite those efforts, the publisher notified Kno at the end of October that its licensing agreement was terminated, according to the complaint. However, Kno continues to offer Cengage e-textbooks, even as it is suing the publisher for trying to terminate the agreement.
“We regret that we had to take legal action against Cengage Learning in order to ensure that our customers continue to have access to Cengage content,” Kno spokesperson Charles Sipkins wrote in an e-mail statement. “We are hopeful we can quickly resolve this matter and remain committed to providing students with the enhanced, interactive features they have come to expect from their textbooks.”
Kno argues that it is not infringing Cengage’s copyright by continuing to sell the e-textbooks because it has a valid license to distribute those works. The Journal feature, the complaint added, does not infringe Cengage’s copyrights because users’ notes don’t count as derivative works, and they constitute fair use of Cengage material.
Left unresolved, the publisher’s copyright claims could spell trouble for Kno, whose complaint suggests it relies on the publisher’s titles for a quarter of its sales. Kno’s complaint says the company will suffer “monetary and irreparable harm” if Cengage does not abide by the original agreement, since users may look for other options in the e-textbook market if their required titles are not available.
A Cengage representative declined to answer questions about the lawsuit, saying the company does not comment on pending litigation. Read Kno’s complaint below.